What Gossip Girl Doesn’t Tell You
Like most high schoolers I know, I’ve lost many would-be productive hours to the irresistible rabbit holes that are Friends and Gossip Girl. While viewers alien to New York City may think these television portrayals, with their fancy restaurants and perpetually stress-ridden characters, accurately represent the city, those of us who live here understand that the reality is far more nuanced.
For one thing, New Yorkers are much friendlier than our hurried walks and reserved expressions would suggest.
“We take care of each other on a much greater basis than people assume,” said Upper School Math Teacher Cameron Lemley, who moved to New York from North Carolina seven years ago. “If I see someone who looks lost on the street or on the subway, I’m going to ask if they need directions. It’s something that I actually really enjoy doing.”
New Yorkers also embody a unique ambition and tenacity. While the city often draws people with aspirations of stardom, even those who fail to make a debut on a Broadway stage find fulfillment in other places. Though Hamilton and Dear Evan Hansen are first to come to mind when people think of New York theater, the majority of Big Apple actors spend their time in black box theaters where audiences rarely exceed the dozens. Because New York is sprawling with creative and intellectual opportunities, everybody is able to find their niche, which creates a passionate environment.
But the most important aspect of the New York identity is its diversity, in every sense of the word. Of course there are plenty of Blair Waldorf types who spend $30 a day on lunch, and Rachel Greens whose clothing budgets run into the many thousands, but they constitute a very small percentage of the larger community. The same can be said for essentially any stereotype of Big Apple residents. The force that truly unifies all New Yorkers is our overwhelming heterogeneity.
From Petit Senegal in Harlem to Little Pakistan in Flatbush, there are hidden pockets throughout this city where people from around the globe can find a place that feels like home. Every neighborhood is rich with an ever-evolving history, and residents, old and new, continuously find ways to enmesh themselves in the traditions that speak to who they are while still upholding the overarching identity of “New Yorker.”
“So many cultures are condensed in this one city, which is visible from just a quick walk down the street,” said Dylan Ng (‘20). “One block could be entirely different from the next.”
Not only do people come from different places, but they also find unique ways of experiencing the city. Nowhere is this more apparent than on the subway. From stop to stop, train cars are filled by a variety of languages, ethnicities, religions, genders, and sexualities. Who knows where they might get off, and what version of the city they will find there? The subway, in its diversity, is a microcosm of New York City itself. The innumerable personalities that the city holds, like those present in the subway’s cars, are, to me, what defines New York.
“The culture of New York is created by the people who come here,” said Mr. Lemley, “not by the people who made this place. In Paris, there are things that are quintessentially French, whereas in New York, there are not necessarily things that are quintessentially American. It’s a place that stands on its own. It’s a place that’s made by the entire world.”
In considering where I would like to go to college, I have been reflecting on the parts of my life that I value most, and trying to determine which institutions will live up to those ideals. Having always lived in New York, I cannot imagine not being surrounded by people of all different backgrounds. My perspective has been shaped by the people around me, not only those I know, but also those whose conversations make their way into my consciousness as I ride the bus each morning. It’s because of New York’s heterogeneity that I’ve been able to discover what I believe in, grow into who I genuinely am, and appreciate the world for what it truly is: a beautiful combination of differences. Wherever we land after Packer, that’s the gift New York will have given us all.