By Stella Haffner   |   April 19, 2022

You’ve probably noticed that the column looks a little bit different in 2022, huh? Well, I’d like you to know that the team behind the Dear Montecito column – that is, me and my caffeine persona – appreciate your continued readership as we find our voice. The truth is that shifts in identity have a lot of growing pains associated with them, something I’ve been thinking about these last few months as I approach my college graduation.

For the first time, my friends and classmates – we’re off in completely different directions. Some of us are finding jobs. Some of us seem to be getting engaged, can you believe it. And me? I’m saddling up for a spin in graduate school. It’s this absolute bizzarro contrast that reminds me the shifts in our identity do not happen in isolation, that they are relative to other people. Of note, the more similar you are to those around you, the more resolution you have to draw these bizarre contrasts. 

The thought of being a student for another year and being able to continue in my course of study is like being a kid and finding a cool rock on the beach: a simple, simple pleasure. But I am confronted with the idea that I will be in proximity to undergraduates. How mature can I possibly be if that thought makes my nose wrinkle? I am still an undergrad at time of publication, after all. But that’s exactly it. It’s too close to me, too similar. I recognize the same thing every year here at college: The sophomore students do everything to distance themselves from the freshmen, but by the time you get to your senior year you find a new liking for your younger classmates. Does anyone have Einstein on speed dial? I need some help teasing apart this identity-relativity theorem.

Perhaps you think this seems blown out of proportion or a little theatrical. I would agree. But I would also like to direct your attention to something that might not be on your mind, but which is, quite keenly I’ll say, on mine. I’ve noticed that academic institutions represent an odd liminal space for age. Those within academia especially are often somewhat isolated from the traditional life milestones that help flag key phases in development. Therefore, the way these individuals identify with those in other phases of life may be unique, so to speak.

I can’t put my finger on it much beyond that because my own compass is busy recalibrating to a new identity. But if I had to guess, I would say it’s worth taking my generation’s distinctive identity psychosis into account when teasing this all apart. Themes of pessimism, detachment, or vervy existentialism can all be found on social media platforms and within conversations with high school students, who seem much older than I did when I was in school. With the pressures of high school from COVID and beyond, I wouldn’t be surprised if they are older than I was, but I suppose it is all relative. 

For the power of comparison alone, it is a gift to produce this column. The stories I have heard and the perspectives that I have had the pleasure of sharing – they have in no small way contributed to my understanding of people and identities. As I move into the next phase of my education, I know I’ll be carrying these thoughts, however verbose and tangled, with me. 

As always,



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