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College VoicesBeing a Carrot - by Michela Hunter
by College Voices
Freshman, Brigham Young University
It snowed yesterday. It snowed gloriously the entire day and well into the night, transforming Provo into a sugar-coated wonderland. And although I danced happily through the storm on the way to all of my classes, by the end of the evening I was cold, wet, and a bit disgruntled at the thought of having to cancel my grocery trip to Orem because of the slick roads.
I wasn’t expecting them to have already been cleared off when I woke up this morning; it seems Utah is much better equipped for dealing with the snow than Virginia is. To be honest, I wasn’t expecting snow at all, seeing how it was about 70 degrees two days before the snowstorm.
It’s all part of the experience of living in Utah, I guess.
When I got here, Utah felt like a completely different planet, and not just because of the enormous mountains or the bipolar weather that requires me to have about three different arrangements of clothing each day. There’s a whole different culture here — like, who knew you could buy temple prints and Modbods at Costco? Who knew Modbods existed in a real store and not just on the Internet? Certainly not I.
BYU is, again, a whole different animal. I’m actually getting used to being surrounded by other Mormons and to having an all-freshman student ward, an FHE group, and Tuesday-morning devotionals. Perhaps the best part of life here is the other people around me.
There is a reason that the application process for BYU is so competitive. During the two months that I have spent here, I have been amazed and humbled to be counted among such incredible young men and women. An overwhelming majority of the students here are LDS; an overwhelming majority of those students are above and beyond rock-solid in the gospel; and, in addition to that, an overwhelming majority are extremely sharp and academically gifted. Meeting and becoming friends with so many brilliantly minded and spiritually strong LDS youth is a blessing that I’ve been truly grateful for during these first few months away from my family.
Among all of this, however, it can be easy sometimes to feel like the dumb one, the not-so-spiritual one, or merely just another stereotypical BYU student. I contemplated this possibility before coming to Utah, and again when the semester began and — though I never really struggled with feelings of inadequacy — I couldn’t help noticing that, yes, everyone here is Mormon; everyone is super-smart; everyone is, besides that, cute and well-dressed and nice and fun.
How on earth am I supposed to stand out from all of them?
Hearing about how other freshmen here have struggled with feeling less special, adequate, or important than other students who all seem equally as if not more wonderful than they puts me constantly in mind of an experience I had this past summer.
It was my final opportunity to participate in Youth Conference as a young woman. Seven stakes in the northern Virginia area combined to put together a dance festival, which we performed in mid-July. Preparation for this Youth Conference took months of planning and practicing and a lot of grumbling on the part of some of the youth; but when it all came together that weekend in July, it was a truly powerful program that was fantastic to be a part of.
Between practices and performances, the leaders had arranged lessons for us to attend, generally in the form of speakers. It was especially exciting that we had the opportunity to be visited and addressed by Sister Mary N. Cook, first counselor in the general Young Women Presidency. However, the lesson that gripped me the most that Youth Conference was given by a woman who talked about the importance of being a carrot.
I think she lived in one of the participating stakes. I don’t remember her name, what she looked like, or even the specifics of everything she said; but I remember very clearly what her message was and the profound effect it had on me.
She told a story about her youth and how when, on a whim, she entered and won a beauty pageant in order to receive a scholarship, she was then expected to represent the entire state of Utah in the Miss Teen USA pageant. She faced this event with trepidation, until receiving some unusual advice from her friend and coach: be a carrot.
Be a carrot? I was as perplexed as everyone else; but then she gave us the full analogy. “Say the judges of the pageant were making soup,” she said, “and they were at the supermarket looking for ingredients to put in the soup. And I was a carrot; but they weren’t looking for carrots. They were looking for lettuce instead. My friend had some interesting ideas about what to put into soup.”
What are you supposed to do, she asked, if you’re a carrot and you know the judges are looking for lettuce? Well, you can try to be lettuce, even though there’s no possible way you can be lettuce. Or you can be a carrot; you can be the best carrot you can possibly be, regardless of what others think, say, or want from you.
The point, she explained, is that each one of us is our own unique person; each one of us is something no one else can ever be, and we can never be anything else. It is our responsibility to be who we are; not only that, to be the best version of us that we can be, despite what we think others want.
It wasn’t until that day that I realized that maybe I had been a carrot trying to be lettuce. I had been trying to be lettuce for so long that I hadn’t even recognized what I had been doing. And so I decided that evening that I was done trying to be something I wasn’t; from then on, I was going to be — well, be a carrot.
It’s easier to be a carrot on some days than others. There are days when I do feel like I’m different, in small ways at least: I come all the way from the other side of the country; sometimes I have insightful comments to make at church and in class; the stories I write are praised by those who read them; I still excel at editing people’s papers; and Italian does come more easily to me than it does to some.
On other days it’s not so easy. Other days, I meet people who seem to easily understand the classes that make my head spin. On other days I meet other English majors who write fiction in their spare time and aspire to be novelists the way I do. On other days I can walk through campus the entire day without seeing a single face I recognize, without being recognized by anyone else. I’m just one little carrot in a giant farmers’ market of produce.
It would be so easy to pretend I don’t have a hard time adjusting to college classes; to be proud and pretend I don’t need help with anything; to join ten billion clubs and say I’m never too busy to do everything; to be spiritually perfect, too; to try, in being the best of them all, to rise above the mediocrity of being just as special as everyone else.
But I always come back to the fact that in truth, none of that really matters. From my first day on campus, I have always been "a carrot" and proud of it. And being a carrot, and being happy being a carrot, has allowed me to keep my own sense of self-worth, despite the fact that it’s very easy to get lost in the crowd here.
I’m sure there are a lot of carrots out there who feel like they have to be and are trying to be lettuce, especially if they're new students at a university where everyone else seems to be valedictorian or uncommonly talented. To those of you who have been feeling this, my advice is the same as that which I received this summer: be a carrot. Be the sweetest, carrotiest carrot you can be, and never mind trying to be something you’re not just to impress — because, as a wise friend told me recently, your worth lies not in what you do but in what you are.
I hope that we are each able to discover and be grateful for what we are, especially during this time of year. I hope that, in turn, each of us will not be ashamed to be a carrot — no matter what way, shape, or form of carrotiness is most fitting. And I hope each of us can learn to love it.
I never thought I'd say this, but that just shows you should never make assumptions: this year — though they aren't my favorite — I am extremely thankful for carrots.
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