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Living Our Caldwell Fellows Values: The Authentic Self

Gabby Chiarenza `23 recently spent time interviewing her Caldwell classmates about the pursuit of the authentic self, one of the Caldwell Fellows' central values. Here's what she learned.

Some our current Fellows exploring their authentic self.

(This interview was conducted and written by Caldwell Fellow Gabby Chiarenza `23. Our special thanks go out to her.)


“No legacy is so rich as honesty”
– William Shakespeare

When students join the Caldwell Fellows, they are embarking on the first year of their college experience. For many, this means a new city, new friends, a new bedroom, new stamps of identity to become resume taglines, and numbers on transcripts. Identity, for many of us, is understood at this point through labels and numbers. We cram our dreams and aspirations into a digestible, two-minute elevator pitch and our sense of self into Instagram highlights.

This identity shifts when Caldwell Fellows find themselves in a Ballroom at Talley Student Union, in professional attire, surrounded by peers they admire. Caldwells describe feeling proud of themselves for an accomplishment that they aren’t sure they understand or deserve. Many Caldwells describe imposter syndrome settling in– a condition of feeling anxious regarding one’s own achievements and feeling like a “fraud.” 

It’s a textbook case of cognitive dissonance when this anxiety is contrasted with the Caldwell value of the “authentic self.” This internalized voice that says I’m not good enough for this, they’ve got the wrong person is contrasted by the Caldwell mantra which says Yes you are! We want the authentic version of you. The Caldwell Fellows define authenticity as a core value of the program – something rare amongst professional organizations at an academic institution. 

Authentic: Of undisputed origin, genuine. 

When this project to discover how Caldwell Fellows are “living our values” first began, this value of authenticity was unquestionably the most popular. It’s a value often overlooked, but one that many students resonate with and actively prioritize for themselves.

Val Ryba, a third-year studying Architecture, described a wide variety of activities that she has encountered in her pursuit of authenticity. She has a strong connection to the outdoors as well as activities in watercolor painting and cooking. She also has a background in outdoor instruction and education.“I think that my authentic self is founded on learning and exploring new adventures and ideas that can later help others, the outdoors is the medium that has been there to guide me in finding my authentic self.” 

In regards to the Caldwell Fellows, Val adds: “All of the Caldwells that I have met have always encouraged me to seek new experiences and talk to new people that can help me along my journey. Not to mention, they always hold space for me in the current place I am in life, no judgment or pity, just being human alongside me.” 

The support from the Caldwell Fellows is what helped Val decide that she wanted to become an outdoor guide to take future fellows out on trips. She plans to pursue her passion for public health, safety, and environmental concerns in architecture to improve communities. This path is one that feels authentic to her and her interests – in academics, recreation, and service. 

As much as pursuing authenticity can be explored with external activities, it can also be an internal process. Sydney Jett, a second-year studying microbiology, has found time for introspection and reflecting on who she wants to be as a person. 

“Within the last year, I would say I’m most proud of learning to give myself grace and patience,” said Sydney. “I’ve learned that as much as I want things to go exactly a certain way, things are not able to be controlled to that degree. Therefore, all I can do is do my best and let life do the rest. I believe that learning to give myself grace and patience has taught me the value of time and putting events into a bigger perspective.”

Pursuing authenticity involves learning from those around us, and learning from ourselves. It’s as intentional as it is natural. Sydney recognizes the values most important to her, while also being equally excited and anxious by the fact that she has more to learn about herself. “I think that because I’m still trying to figure out exactly who I am, as cliché as that sounds, I’m working on understanding who my most authentic self is,” Sydney said. 

Recent Caldwell Alumnus, Sabrina Hurtado, partnered with Kourosh Salamati to display the authenticity of the Caldwell Fellows with their Personality Portrait Project. The pair wanted to offer a chance for Caldwells to express themselves through photography. “Authentic self to me is exploring who you are with no judgment from your communities,” Sabrina said. “A lot of the time we aren’t exactly sure what our authentic self feels like or looks like and it can change over time, the practice of giving yourself the freedom to explore that is honoring the authentic self.”

The project gave Caldwells the space to explore their sense of self, as well as allowing Sabrina and Kourosh the opportunity to experiment with different lighting and angles. The Fellows brought their own props, ranging from skateboards to plants to rollerskates.  Each of them took intentional time to reflect on what items, articles of clothing, and poses reflected their truest selves. In a time of transitioning into professional LinkedIn headshots, it’s equally important to demonstrate personality and use photography for authenticity. 

“I hope that the Caldwells that participated got to do some healthy exploration of how to portray themselves authentically and feel more comfortable in front of the camera,” Sabrina said. “For those Caldwells who supported and saw the project, I hope they feel represented and find the diversity of personalities portrayed relatable. I hope they feel proud to be part of such a tight-knit community that holds such a wide array of different people.”

The pursuit of authenticity is an internal and external journey. If we wish to be gentle with the people we meet, we must first be gentle with ourselves. If we wish to accept others, we must also accept ourselves. Learning to understand ourselves‒ our desires, our sense of self, our deepest feelings‒ is a way of understanding humanity. 

To be human is to be oneself, and to be oneself is to be human.