“Out of Place” – by Savannah Pobre

Student stories

Out of place. The three starting words to my college essay, a stack of cards misplaced on a shelf at a local paper store where I work, and a thought that will continue pushing me into the person I am and aspire to be.

In my experience, stories start and end in two distinctly different ways. They wrap themselves up in a neat bow, a perfect circle, completely round, resolving where it began, finite. Or, they come unfinished, segmented in an odd format, inviting outside speculation, open-ended, infinite. My story is the latter.

I grew up in a fishbowl called Logan Township. Fit snugly into the tristate area, my house was caught between a roaring highway and endless fields of farmland. I was never challenged by my location, closed in by a small radius of 27 odd square miles total. As soon as I was allowed to cross the street, the town became my playground, only limited to the reaches of my youthful imagination. I moved once during my childhood, only a few miles away to a bigger house in the same town as my family welcomed a new addition. I had two baby brothers, one closer to me in age than the other, both still accustomed to life inside the fishbowl. Going to a local public school was not called to question until I began high school and the population of a little under six thousand never felt constricting until I turned fourteen. Close quarters became customary and running into somebody I knew became a habit. Recognizing my need to be challenged, both in the sense of my world view and academically, my parents sacrificed for me to be sent to a private co-ed Catholic high school located in Pennsauken, NJ, a thirty-minute ride outside of the fishbowl, depending on traffic.

The memories of my childhood are rosy, lots of neighborhood kids (many of whom I am still in contact with), lots of sunshine, and lots of love. I guess that maybe the reason that I did not develop any specific realization or sense of my identity until I entered my freshman year of high school. There was no need, my identity fell right alongside my small hometown and within the walls of my five-person family. I was Savannah, I had a crazy dream of shooting myself into space, I liked stars, always had my face in a book, ran long distances just to listen to the entirety of a new music album, and I was allergic to tree nuts and peanuts. What was known was known, until I reached the unknown.

In high school, I met my best friends, floated between stereotype groups, and emerged as a leader among the clubs and service I was involved in. I met people who lived in places vastly different than my hometown and I was also faced with religious challenges along the way. High school was the first time I allowed myself to disagree with something that I was taught. Never one to impose my opinions in a public space, I kept quiet and to myself, privately speaking with my theology teacher about various projects that I disagreed with or wanted to do differently. Then my junior year hit and the year was 2016. College was a distant, yet vastly approaching shadow in my rearview mirror and the news feed continuously featured opinions as the presidential election geared up. Unsure of who I was and what my place was going to be after I completed my four years in high school, I joined my best friend and a few peers on a trip to El Paso, Texas and Las Cruces, New Mexico.

The first words I wrote down when I peered out the window of the van that was taking us to our base camp at a local church were “out of place”. Referring to the steel border that had been placed on the serene desert landscape, the words echoed in my head as I spent a week, on a complete social media detox, with people who I had more in common with than I wanted to believe. Not only did the color of my skin and my last name suddenly play a factor in how I was viewed, but I was constantly questioned about my heritage. Having a Filipino father and an Irish-English mother, the color of my skin was never questioned within my hometown or high school community except for jealous-inflicted cries from my girlfriends who wanted to tan as well as I did under the summer sun. I spoke broken Spanish, from eight years of learning it in a classroom setting, but I was an American citizen. As I met documented and undocumented immigrants from both sides of the border, I began to question who I was for the purpose of wanting to know my place in the world. Selfishly, I wanted to be the one to fix everything, inside and outside, too big of a feat to accomplish at seventeen. Influenced by the hearts that touched me, and the homemade meals I learned to cook in the kitchen of sweet abuelas with no family left, I went home and felt out of place among the privilege that surrounded me. That august I made one of the biggest decisions of my life when I decided to apply for admission to one of the United States military academies.

My mom was a marine before I was born, she served and so did my great grandfather, but the military had never even crossed my mind until after I had returned from my Outreach trip. Knowing that I had a severe allergy, my parents continuously tried to persuade me to not waste my time, anticipating a decline from the medical board no matter how qualified I was. Nonetheless, it was not and is not in my nature to allow a disadvantage to stop me from pursuing something I want. And I wanted this, more than anything. Accepting that I was not going to back down, my parents and I dove headfirst into the extensive process of applying to the United States Naval Academy and the United States Air Force Academy. Nine months of literal blood, sweat, and tears, later I was accepted to the Naval Academy and given a full national scholarship to attend my chosen school from the Navy, both with a pending medical waiver. With too many options to choose from and the pride of my parents beaming behind me, I opened my other college acceptances, including Embry Riddle, University of Maryland, and Princeton University. My heart still set on where I had started the process, I waited patiently for the Department of Defense medical board to allow me to serve. A month later, my senior year had ended in a frenzy of goodbyes to childhood friends, and I was denied any military career on the basis of my allergy. I accepted Princeton University and enrolled in the great Class of 2023, beginning my next journey and pushing my hopes to pursue a career as a military pilot as far behind me as I could.

I am a freshman in college now, with a lot of pieces of my past still working their way up to find me as I drive past with my gaze affixed on the road in front. I have never been good at looking back. Through my journey, I have accepted that I can and will do everything I can in my power to become the woman a younger me would have looked up to. I have the experience now to fully understand that people make decisions that you have no control over. And to this day I am thankful for all of the sour moments in my eighteen brief years on this earth. Lemons and limes don’t always make the sweetest lemonade or limeade, but as the sour patch commercial bluntly states, it’s bound to get sweet before it’s gone.