Identity in Maya Angelou's Graduation

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The inquiry of identity is both a philosophical and a psychological question. Identity is not only comprised of the characteristics that make individuals unique, but also includes external perceptions that classify groups of people together. It gives individuals a unique sense of self, and also lends itself to the application of labels and stereotypes. I believe identity is an integral part of human existence. It creates societies and distinguishes culture. It gives individuals a sense of community and self-worth. I have an identity that no one else can own. It is a reflection of my past and the foundation for my future. Every decision I make becomes a part of my identity. But like all humans, I tend to change my mind frequently. My identity is dynamic. I think this is common for all humans. I believe that all people undergo changes and shifts in identity. I once knew a Navy SEAL that would tell stories of the missions that he carried out while in the service. He often commented on the fact of how easily he and his comrades could joke and carry normal conversation merely minutes after having killed other soldiers. The dramatic change from a stalking killing machine to a “good ol’ drinking buddy” was astonishing. Maya Angelou describes in her essay “Graduation” an abrupt shift in identity that she experienced. During her 8th grade commencement ceremony, she became painfully aware of the prejudice and stereotypes that haunt her race. She also realized the history of this behavior and the obstacles that she faces when she heard the words to the Negro National Anthem “for the first time” (Angelou 38). I think it is common to experience moments in life that significantly change identity. I believe the most common shift in identity is the maturation process. I’ve always been fairly levelheaded, but within the last four years I have matured significantly and adapted my identity appropriately. My priorities have shifted and my attitudes have changed. I am essentially a different person. This change happened when I decided to return to school to finish my bachelor’s degree. I was holding down a full-time position, but in reality I was trying to perform the job of two people.
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