Who am I? Can I conceal myself for evermore? Pretend I’m not the man I was before?
Jean Valjean asks these questions to himself with deep agony when he finds out that Javert arrested someone instead of him believing that the man is Jean Valjean. Jean Valjean was living a successful life with his past hidden. When the moment of confront came, he was rather forced to ask himself of his identity. Many of us are well aware of the story Les Miserable which has especially gained popularity though musicals and movies not to mention the original book by Victor Hugo.
I remember my very first year at Ewha which goes back to 1999. I was a first year student who had just graduated high school trying to find out her identity in this much bigger world. Friends and seniors all seemed to know what they were doing, what they wanted and I felt like I was the only one wondering around not knowing who I was. So I figured that perhaps following what others (whom I admired such as socially successful and novel figures) do, read and believe could be the shortcut to end the search of self. However, mimicking without critically questioning who I am only made me more puzzled, and wondering years at Ewha was only the beginning of my long search for identity. To be honest, I still ask myself the same questions I used to ask in my freshman year - Who am I and what do I want in life?
In fact, later I learned that continuing to ask these question are very important for not only myself but for the society as a whole. We easily make choices and decisions affected by the settings around us. Too easily we are swept by mainstream opinion, mass media images and adjust ourselves to them without any critical thinking for questioning.
However, I think we can only dream of a better myself and a better society by critically thinking and questioning. The process of searching for identity is healthy and necessary. We should endlessly ask - about the society we live in, people’s behaviors, politics, mass media, the university, our interaction with friends, family and the society, about what we want in life and about the world we live in. Searching for identity and questioning about everything can be like brushing your teeth every day. It is perhaps one way of being awake and living an independent life.
To all Ewhians starting this fall semester, I would like to conclude this short column by mentioning the level of connectivity. What composes the stars, galaxy and the universe, composes us as well. Atoms of the universe are in us and atoms of us are in the universe. So you are small but also very big.
You and your friends, your neighbors, your society, you and I, you and the environment, you and this world are all connected to each other. Some of you are in your first year and some are now close to graduation. You are young, intelligent and beautiful and I cannot wait to see how each of you will go on with your lives and make small but big changes. In that sense, you are my super star. I wish you to also remember that you are a superstar of your life too. Keep questioning about everything around you!
*Professor Lee Seung-yoon received a master’s degree from Seoul National University and a Ph.D degree from University of Oxford.