Let’s address the elephant in the room. I’m young. No, but really—I’m young.
I’m 22. I never felt so aware or conscious of my age as I have in the last year of my life when I started this journey called graduate school and committed to working in higher education for the foreseeable future. When starting new positions or meeting new people, I’ve worked hard to hide my age—I’ve avoided conversations mentioning birth years, code switched to make myself not “sound as young,” and spent time considering how my clothing choices might age me. When students ask me my age, I usually let them know that I’d rather not share it, that it’s private. Often times, I’ve wondered if people take me as seriously as they should. Sometimes, they haven’t.
Relative to others at my age, I’ve accomplished quite a bit. At 18, I achieved financial independence (in San Francisco, no less), paying my own bills as I worked my way through college. At 20, I applied to graduate school while studying abroad, and at 21, I began working on an M.Ed, landed a graduate assistantship, and moved on my own to a new state with three bags of belongings to my name. At 22, I accepted my first full-time, professional position doing what is essentially a dream job that combines all of my interests and will be co-presenting research at a national conference. I’m set to graduate with an M.Ed in 7 months. In many ways, my circumstances pushed me to find a sense of self and resiliency that others may not experience by 22. In the world of student affairs, some might say I gained a sense of self-authorship and the skills to weather transitions early on.
Though I’ve accomplished much in a short timespan, my age is visible, and my history is not. As a young graduate student and a young professional, I’m hyperaware of my age identity. Consistently being the youngest person in the room combined with the weight of impostor syndrome presents challenges beyond what I expected when it comes to the world of higher education and student affairs. For instance, I’ve had to clarify my credentials and professional status several times. If I was a few years older, would I still be receiving these questions? Would as many people ask me how old I am, or express so much shock when they hear the answer? For lack of a better phrase, this kind of thing gets old.
Tomorrow, I turn 23.
Frankly, worrying about and hiding my age has become an exhausting chore. As I move into my 23rd year of life, my goal is to hold myself accountable for living into my truth when it comes to my age. Leaning into being a younger professional isn’t comfortable, and there may still be those who inappropriately underestimate my potential for leadership and professional practice by my age identity (that’s called ageism, by the way). To those who have openly doubted me thus far—you and I know who you are—you haven’t stopped me one bit.
I’m a young professional on the rise with lots more ahead. My age is a strength, not a hindrance. It gifts me with the humility to understand that there will always be much to learn from others and the perspective to know the gravity of my accomplishments up until this point. And to hide this piece of my identity would be such a mistake. I’d be hiding one of the most impressive parts of my story, and I’ve worked too hard to be ashamed.
This year, and every year forward, I choose to celebrate my age. You should, too.