So Where is Waldo, Really? #FLASHBACK2SCHOOL

Essay Prompt: “So Where is Waldo, Really?”

This is a trick question! I call shenanigans. Obviously “Waldo,” who answers to several dozen variations of his name across the globe (can we say assumed identity? On the run?), has the ability to pop in and out of random scenes amidst the strangest crowds of people with just a blink of his bespectacled eyes. He can be everywhere at once. Wining and dining on one page, while riding a mechanical bull on another. (I made those examples up—has he done these things before?) Like the Charlie Browns of the world, he also seems to possess a very limited wardrobe. Needless to say, this is the real question we need to ask: Who is Waldo? Yes, what exactly is the deal with this mysterious Waldo/Wally/Willie/Walter/Ali/Charlie/etc character? Just what is he guilty of? How many candy cane-striped shirts does he own anyway? And most importantly, does he want to be found or not?

With such an elusive character, it’s impossible to know for sure—at least until one of the members in his similarly clothed entourage decides to talk. But humor me for a minute. Allow me to speculate. I’m sure it would be fun to imagine that Waldo is wanted for a long laundry list of nefarious deeds, teasing law enforcement officials in a brilliant game of cat-and-mouse as he trots across the globe. But I don’t personally think he is guilty of any terrible crime(s).  I think he’s just a kid—just trying out different names and locales until he finds the one that fits. Like the kid who grows up in the same small town from which no one ever seems to escape, Wally wants to travel, to find his corner of the world. He wants to be noticed, but a part of him remains afraid of the attention. He’s a contradiction, like so many of us are as we are still coming of age.  We haven’t quite figured out who we are, so we experiment; we do things that don’t seem to make sense in conjunction with each other. We don a wacky trademark outfit so we’re easily recognized. But then we negate it by hiding in the company of other people, people who are even louder and wilder so that we can still remember what it’s like to get lost.

I can relate. During a recent classroom discussion, a professor of mine said that you have to watch out for a kid who decides without warning to up and change his name. I neglected to mention then that I’d done that very thing twice—once in sixth grade (Sandy) and another in ninth grade (Suzun)—so I’ll cop to it now. Here’s my full confession: I didn’t fully understand back then why I was doing it, but suddenly it makes sense. It’s probably worth noting that those were both years in which I had just started a new school (middle school and high school, respectively) and in many ways, just beginning a long journey into the unknown. The landscape had changed, and with it, a new sea of faces awaited. I wanted to be one of those new faces. Likewise, I understand what it’s like to wish to be both lost and found, all at once. I grew up dreaming of fame and fortune, aiming to shock and intimidate at every turn. But at the same time, I valued the idea of privacy and the need to blend into the crowd. There were times when all I wanted was to be ordinary and unseen. A contradiction…maybe.  But one that is both natural and understandable.

Waldo, Waldo, everywhere. Indeed.

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Note: This is the second essay in a 3-part blog challenge inspired by this NYT article about the new wave of creative college admissions essay prompts. Read more about the rules and logistics of the challenge and my reasons for taking it on in this previous post. There, you will also be able to find links to my other essays and those of my friends when they become available.

* Read what Ren and Elizabeth had to say regarding the age-old question, “Where’s Waldo?”