It’s eerily silent at the dinner table during Chinese New Year. Distant conversations float faintly around me as family and friends reconnect over steaming plates of fried rice, pork dumplings, and spring rolls. A distinct feeling of not belonging rushes over me: I can’t help but notice that these are people who have had their lives and careers set from the start. My brother, an undergraduate computer science major, is an ingot refined through years of family experience and support. Me, however? A book full of blank pages, still to be filled with ink. Everywhere I turn, successful members of my family seem to travel a similarly established route—namely, the STEM field. Perhaps it’s time to buck the trend.

When I was young, my parents always expressed their admiration for the successful scientists and engineers around me. I visited science fairs and museums, and I paged through the pictures of rocks and plants in the science textbooks they handed to me. I also read fiction—in fact, I much preferred fiction. I loved to imagine living and breathing the events of those action-packed storybooks. I was enthralled by the adventures of new worlds and the realities of different characters…until the familiar words “put down the fiction and read a real book” shattered my thoughts once again.

But maybe that fictional book represents me, whose pages long to be imbued with writing and the arts. Maybe that science textbook represents a potentially well-respected life of science, lab coats, and academic research—of stability. My mind screams STEM, and yet my heart belongs to the humanities.

As I grew older, I longed to create my own world. Immersing myself in politics, business, and the social sciences, I forged a path away from the established majors and professions of my family members. My heritage as a first-generation immigrant from an East Asian culture is an integral part of my life, but that doesn’t mean I have to fit into a traditionally STEM-oriented mold. I soldier on.

My interests have followed me in my pursuit of entrepreneurship and leadership. Starting a public speaking club at my school during freshman year has helped me to develop the confidence to speak out about pertinent social issues in the community. As class president and a member of the student advisory board, I’ve pitched election guideline changes, created school resources for prospective students and future student boards, and worked to promote inclusion and diversity for school clubs and activities. The hours I’ve spent compiling student feedback, discussing policy changes, and running class board meetings have shaped me into a responsible leader who has realized just how much more he has to learn and grow. Through my experiences, I’ve begun to forge my identity: a detail-oriented enthusiast, a diplomatic strategist, an open-minded ambassador of myself and the people around me. By expanding the student elections platform at my school and welcoming dialogue on hot-topic issues like voting rights and abortion laws in speech club, I aim to empower the unity and diversity of my community.

A tap on my shoulder from a relative pulls me out of my thoughts, and it’s no longer silent at the dinner table. I have nothing to be ashamed about with my passion for the humanities. I’ve reaffirmed my desire to pursue who I am. I look up to my family because they’re an intrinsic part of my upbringing and past, a pragmatic and grounding force in all of my pursuits and passions—yet, I’m not defined by them. The blank pages in my book are mine to write, and mine alone to fulfill.

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