Going to public schools in Oakland from kindergarten through 12th grade exposed me to much more than the average student at Yale. While I am always grateful for the diverse array of experiences I was able to have, I often look back in retrospect and realize the many different situations that I was involved in and how easily these incidents could have ended my academic career as I know it. However, if I could attribute my ability to stay out of trouble to one single trait or action that I was able to consistently execute, it was the lack of fear I had in telling people no.
I know, it sounds so easy, but the difficulty that comes with this is intense. I remember times when friends (or acquaintances) would ask me told hold something for them, rather it be drugs, a gun, or stolen merchandise. While you always want to be cool with your boys and do them a favor, you have to ask yourself. Who comes first? Me, or the next person? Am I really going to let somebody else control my life? Am I really going to let somebody else pressure me into doing something that for one, isn't me, and two will potentially get me in serious trouble. You have to be strong minded and stand up for yourself, and learn to live with telling people no. You only have to do it once to set a precedent. After that, it's done.
People know not to ask you to do things that will jeopardize your future. While I'm putting this first in the context of saying no to negative peer pressure, this lesson is also so relevant to my current life at Yale. While the questions I'm asked no longer have the ability to get me put in prison, they often are questions that deal with the main economic system at Yale, which is time. As a minority student at a PWI, every organization will want you to play a role in their group, if its only to increase their diversity. However, the same principal applies. You have to choose what you are most passionate about and go about doing them to the fullest. You can't let others drain your time and use you for the benefits you provide, such as diversity. If you put your own well-being first, you should be fine, but if you let others decide how you use your own time, or make your own decisions for you, you'll quickly find yourself in a position of despair.
The point I’m making is that, what people fail to understand is that the most important factor in shaping your identity isn’t your parents, or your teachers, or your coaches. The most important factors are your peers. In reality, your peers get to know you the best, interacting with you on a daily basis where you are being your true self. There is no sense of forced respectability towards authority. There is no consequence for not doing something that a peer tells you to. It’s all genuine interaction based on what you can truly control. And maintaining control over your actions is what you must strive to do, day in and day out, in order to propel yourself to the place that deep down inside you know you want to be.