Writing Catalog

Polly Routh

Grade: 11

Cleveland Heights High School

Instructor: Patrick Fisher

Finding My Voice

Personal Essay & Memoir

Finding My Voice

In 2018 my sister walked across the stage of her high school graduation wearing an extra cord to signify she was the valedictorian of her class. Three years later I watched my brother at his graduation, where an administrator announced that he was valedictorian. The success of my siblings seemed inescapable. As I walked through the hallways at school I read their names on papers hung up on bulletin boards. Teachers, my peers, and even the family I babysat for urged me to say congratulations to my brother for becoming a National Merit Scholar, news they had found out through a local article. My friends would ask "are you going to be valedictorian as well?" and I would leave them without an answer.

My whole life I looked up to my sister and brother. I slept in the bathroom next to my brother's room just to be closer to him. I copied everything my sister did and repeated every word she said. I have always wanted to be just like them, but now the stakes seem higher than ever.

I did not receive grades until middle school. My work ethic was driven by wanting to always try my best, not receive the highest score. Recently my grades began to mean something about my future. In high school I was given the opportunity to check my GPA every time a grade was entered. I was given a metric that made it easy to compare myself to my siblings. Everything that made me unique was suddenly boiled down to a number, and that number always seems to be less than. Trying my best no longer seemed to be an option, I was forced to try to meet my siblings' best.

As my siblings went to college it became harder to observe and adopt their interests. While it gave me the chance to shape my own identity, it also left me with the opportunity to hyper focus on the one measure that was no longer changing about my siblings- their high school achievements. I had begun to ignore all the things that make me adore my siblings and instead replaced them with numbers.

Having similar DNA doesn't guarantee the same achievements. I am happy to hear of my siblings' success, but it also fills me with the anxiety of disappointing my parents. My siblings and I were given the same opportunities, which prompts me to ask myself- anything they can do I should be able to do as well, so why can't I? Sharing the same parents does not mean that we are guaranteed to be the same person, nor that we are meant to be. Even though we may have had the same experiences growing up, we reacted differently and that is what separates me from my siblings.

I have discredited my own accomplishments just because they don't live up to those of my siblings. I want to be able to recognize how hard I worked for things, because the work that I put in is what shapes me as an individual, not the outcome. If my parents could reproduce children with the same exact strengths and accomplishments, my family might have another child graduate as valedictorian, but family dinners would be boring as we all told the same stories. I may not feel the pressure of reaching their accomplishments anymore, but I would lose my individuality.

These days my activities have less to do with the pressure of matching my siblings' performance and more about finding out what it is that makes me me. I spent crisp fall evenings and Saturday afternoons calling out the names and plays in the high school girls soccer games. Each morning of the school week I report to the principal's office to read off my school's morning announcements over the PA system. And when I meet someone new at school, they're more likely to recognize me as the girl from the announcements than my siblings' younger sister.

As I've gotten older and gained a greater understanding of what it means to be an individual, I have started to relieve myself from the pressure of these expectations and instead began to prioritize my own identity, rather than mimicking my siblings. I realize that taking the risk of disappointing those around me is worth the happiness I gain from being myself.