Taeo Johnston’s College Essay


Taeo Johnston, Contributor

Growing up in Massachusetts, I am very familiar with linguistic accents. Southie English sounds different than Boston English, which sounds different than Worcester English. Little did I realize, however, that speaking the Queen’s English would make me different. I could not have anticipated the interesting journey I would undergo due to the way I chose to spell colour, and grey. 

I first began to notice that I did not sound like other kids when I was in elementary school. I would often be asked to say things like “banana, grass, water, fantastic”; basically anything that got me to stretch my little British accent. Then came the questions: “How did you get an English accent if you live in America? Are your parents English? What’s Australia like?” and my personal favourite: “Dude, why are you so fake?”. As you can imagine, I developed quite a complex. One day I came home and asked my parents about what had been happening to me. Rather than brushing me off, they explained my family’s heritage, along with why I sound the way I do. My parents both grew up in the South of England; they did not have accents until they moved to the United States. When they came to the United States they had no family until I was born. Along with my parental influence, I was raised on David Attenborough and Wallace and Gromit, which helped me to understand the unique nature of my voice. 

Even with this knowledge, middle school presented more challenges. My voice took longer than all of my classmates to break, awarding me the privilege of being greeted as Ma’am on the phone. Furthermore, being British bestowed upon me a different sense of humor. British wit, for those unaware, is really dry and can be hard to understand. All of this, coupled with insults about my ‘otherness’, further lowered my self-esteem. At this point, I forced myself to adopt an American accent as a coping mechanism in order to end the torment from others. This, as it turned out, served me in an unexpected way. 

In high school, I developed the ability to seamlessly slip in and out of my accent at will. I also discovered how to use my sense of humor. My love of comedy and impressions along with my ability to change voices, helped me in my high school years. Although I came in on the first day with my guard up, and had my American accent preloaded on my tongue, I did not find it necessary to use it. My accent became a thing of interest to others and I managed to connect with kids who accepted me and made me feel welcome. I found a completely new environment than what I had departed from. Kids no longer made fun of me, but wanted to talk about my voice and why it sounded the way it did. My accent became a social benefit for the first time. Now kids would ask “Where did you get the cool accent?” “Could you say aluminum, please.” and my new favourite: “My friend really wants to meet you”. 

Now that I have arrived at my senior year, my accent is not even an issue. My experiences around it have readied me to be an example to others who may feel ostracized. I am prepared to lead my fellow students through the year, and beyond. Above that, I feel like I can look back, perhaps not always fondly, but with a new perspective, at my experiences throughout grade school. The people who were mean to me and expressed dislike towards me were just bumps in the road called life. Each pothole made me better, and into the self-confident, and sympathetic young man that I am today. I can proudly stand up, and, in my quirky accent, proclaim “Hello, my name is Taeo, and my favourite colour is grey.” 

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