bethany allen ’89
Growing up, I was often the only student of color in my class, my grade, or even my school. I lived in a small, one traffic light town and had a happy childhood; I had loving parents and spirited siblings.
My brother and sister and I spent most of our time together growing up, and most of it outside, playing by the brook that ran by our house or picking blackberries in the bushes along its banks, climbing trees, riding our bikes everywhere, and building and then protecting our forts of various forms. We were such a tight-knit group that I didn't realize I was different from them, but I was a black kid in a white town, so I was bound to figure it out eventually.
School, or rather, other school children, was the catalyst for this realization. Kids I had never seen before gave me wary looks or seemed to flat-out avoid me. Some kids teased me for my skin being darker than theirs or my hair being “messy.” Over the years, the chiding remarks weighed on me more and more, to the point where I wanted nothing more than to just “fit in.” School became a place where I felt socially ostracized and even an occasional target of discrimination. At the same time, school was a place where I excelled; I loved learning. By junior high, though, I started to dread school and my grades even started slipping.
One of my classmates started talking about Gould – her older brother had started going there, and she was going to follow him when it came time for high school. I knew almost nothing about it, but became convinced that it was the place for me, too. I got accepted to Gould but had to wait on news of the scholarship before I could celebrate that achievement – without it, there was no way I could attend. Then one day I was called to the office to speak to my mother on the phone. “Looks like you're going to be the next to Bingham Scholar," she told me.
I went to Gould with high hopes, but also a ton of anxiety. Would I fit in? Would people like me? Being an ugly duckling in junior high had worn on me; I had vigorously sought the attention and acceptance of my peers to a point nearing exhaustion. It took me some time to let go of my insecurities and realize that I didn't need to expend my energy in that way at Gould, but I did eventually, and that made all the difference.
Ironically, in a small town even smaller than the one in which I grew up, I experienced diversity for the first time – and not just racial diversity, but diversity of thought and perspective. And all this was encouraged, welcome, celebrated. Yes, I was different in some ways from my peers, but we were all unique in some ways, and those unique traits brought something to the table, something good and meaningful. I was finally able to embrace the things that made me who I was, and I came to understand then as empowering. With the enormous wave of “fitting in” off my shoulders, and with the help of dedicated, inspired teachers and advisors, I flourished as a student and was able to realize my childhood dream of getting into Harvard.
The years since leaving Bethel have had their share of ups and downs, successes and failures but Gould remains a beacon of happiness and a source of pride in my life. I can only imagine how different my life would be had I not discovered my potential for leadership, not been pushed to higher levels of reflection and introspection, not felt the fierce devotion and stalwart support from the people who I consider Brilliant – Bonnie Pooley, Gary Hill, Lucia Owen, Mac Davis, and so many other teachers. If they believed in me, I had no choice but to believe in myself.
I can only imagine how different my life would be had I never heard the words "Looks like you're going to be the next Bingham Scholar." I'm so grateful for those words, for the scholarship and the opportunity it afforded me, and the knowledge that every two years, another kid with untold promise from a small town in Maine might hear them, too, and get to experience all the joys, wonder, and growth that is inherent in an education from Gould.