Project Description

I am.

By: Primi Akhtar

Last year,
I chopped off my hair
In a Queens barber shop, under the 7 train. I remember wet clumps of my hair hitting the porcelain floors, my heart beating as though it wanted to run somewhere safe from the predictable fury of my mother.
Did you ever feel so scared, but so free? I felt like that, every time I cut it again, and again.
The following day,
Alisher noted I looked like Gandhi,
Others were shocked that I had the guts to go that far,
In a world that constantly wants to define us,
mold us to their shapes so we fit to what makes others comfortable.
I want you to look in the mirror and say to yourself.

I’ll let the world know!
I am.

Not defined by these norms and numbers, branded clothes, dollar bills and diplomas, that tell me I’m not great enough
That when I am seated in a classroom that bears a silence, as pencils circle in bubbles, forced to pick between five choices – I think for myself.
I will always be more than what you’ve calculated of my worth. I won’t let you define me by society’s standards of worthy…because
I’ll let the world know!
I am —beautiful, different, boundless.

I’ll let the world know!
I am
not going to sit quietly. And place my hand in my lap in fear that what I have to say is not correct. Because if I do speak up, these words will uplift the fragile hearts of others to stand up, to move forward, to no longer carry the burden of the world on their own.

I’ll let the world know!
I am
not going to die never knowing who I am, and settle with this overall ability to sit quietly and never question, and let my fear stop me from creating something new and beautiful.
And keep falling under unreasonable expectations, causing my true self to wither away in efforts to blossom in society’s standard of “success”.

I’ll let the world know!
I am
not what you think I am. These labels that say men are not suppose to cry, women are too hormonal to make reasonable decisions, that only a handful are smart because they pass these exams that everyone else “fails”. That I must conform to straightness, because any other way is disgusting and wrong. I am told that this generation is “Worse than the last”– even though I was born into a world where mistakes deem imprisonment, while steel bars and scantrons, stand in the way of my actual growth. Despite being boxed into prepackaged ideas and values, I will not be who you want me to be.

I’ll let world know
I am
going to discover my true self and discover our power as individuals, as youth, as a unified collective, not competing, not dividing ourselves by these digits, dollar bills, and diplomas.

And I am
going to define myself,
push against these walls
that box us, make us smaller, to fit into society’s ideals

And as I stand here as the epitome of that ideal student,
who represents high averages and test scores,
I am going to
speak up, and name what I am:
powerful, different, resilient.

And I dare you– to put behind your insecurities, and name what you are!
And if there’s one message I can give to humanity,
it’s that we, must live where we fear to live. Abandoning our insecurities in search of something more
and only then, will we be infinite in our worth, in our power, in our love.
and maybe beyond.

– Primi Akhtar
from her Valedictory Address
Queens Metropolitan High School
June 2014

Primi is a founding member of NYC Student Union who will be attending Columbia University in the fall.