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Paths To DA: Vaish Gajaraj
Vaish Gajaraj '17 Associate Editor
April 15, 2015

Coming to Deerfield has been the most fascinating and influential experience of my life. I was born in Singapore, and moved to Princeton, New Jersey when I was five years old. In my new home, I attended public school.

There, we didn’t have mandatory co-curriculars as we do here. There were only eight after-school clubs open to freshmen, and most of them were very selective.

The majority of my peers had no responsibilities. An average student might go home after school, smoke some weed, sleep and then waste hours of time doing nothing before finally starting his homework.

Procrastination was the norm. My friends and I actually used to have contests to see who could waste the most time.

None of this affected our grades or sports, though, because classes were a breeze and extracurriculars were non-existent.

Looking back, I am not surprised by the shock I faced when I came to Deerfield. My lifestyle at public school was, in many ways, self-destructive and irresponsible.

But the lack of motivated, high-achieving kids at my old school isn’t the only reason I struggled when I first arrived at Deerfield.

I come from a very religious, Indian-American background. Accustomed to a life of going to temple every week in jeans, a graphic t-shirt and New Balance sneakers, I found out at Deerfield how sheltered I had been in Princeton. I was transitioning from a uniform society full of “typical public school kids” into a more diverse one, with country-club kids and poets, lacrosse PGs and robotics geeks.

My public school repressed the individuality of its student-s; we were all mixed together in a dark cauldron of grey mediocrity. I was not surrounded by national-level athletes or brilliant mathematicians.

That is why, upon arriving at Deerfield, I quickly formed an inferiority complex.

Coming from a school with far lower standards, I found it hard on my sense of self to compete with some of the most social, extroverted, intelligent, athletic and artistically talented students in the country. I found myself questioning my place in the community and wondering what my purpose was at Deerfield.

Making the adjustment harder was the fact that without my old friends and parents around, I couldn’t find the motivation to work as hard as I had in the past. As motivation decreased, the amount of work exponentially increased and I often wanted to quit.

But through this stressful transition period, I learned something incredibly valuable.

Initially, coming to Deerfield made me want to be someone that I wasn’t.

I yearned to be more athletic, social and intelligent than I really am. But one day, a good friend of mine made me rethink my approach by reminding me of our school’s motto: “Be Worthy of Your Heritage.”

I realized then that I was too busy worrying about who I wanted to become, and not focused enough on improving who I already am. I cannot imagine how different my perspective would be if I had never left Princeton.

Deerfield, although very challenging at first, opened me up to the world and gave me a better sense of self. At the beginning of my transition, I was unsure if I wanted to continue at this school. But in the past seven months, I know that I have found my place in this small pond of big fish.