“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

I don’t recall a moment in my life when I had that comforting feeling of belonging. What I do remember perfectly, is the first time I thought I was odd.

My kindergarten classmates played in the school’s courtyard, and I sat in a corner reading — Little Women by Louisa Alcott — my mother’s favorite book. A kid walked up to me. In an attempt to connect, I shared something about the story I was reading. “You are weird,” said the kid and he turned his back and rejoined the group.

That moment, I realized that I needed to work to fit in. For 15 years I made it my mission. I would study the people surrounding me. What did they like? What were they interested in? How did they speak? I thought the more I knew, the more I could emulate, and the more I would belong.

One day, I realized, no matter how hard I tried, I was an outcast.

So, I stopped trying. I realized that the one person I needed to belong to was myself. It felt liberating. I embraced the things that made me stand out and those became my strengths. So now I graduate with a new mission: being unapologetically myself and showing all weird and odd little girls hiding in corners that they can step out of the shadows and shine.

— Sara Mattei Gentili