A Question of Identity
Who are you?
by Helen Redfern (revised, originally published in 2009)
Suitable for Key Stage 4/5
To challenge us to consider how we define ourselves and encourage us to be true to who we really are.
Preparation and materials
- You will need an A4 sheet of paper with ‘Who are you?’ typed at the top and the words of Eliza’s essay from the last part of the ‘Assembly’, Step 2, written below.
- Have available the song ‘I am amazing’ by Philippa Hanna and the means to play it at the end of the assembly. It is 4.21 minutes long and is available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fVNKj0fbMiU
- Note: this assembly touches on a very sensitive topic. Be aware that it may raise issues that some students may need to deal with.
- Please note there are many services offering help with issues relating to mental health. You may wish to make extra information available during the assembly.
Some useful examples are:
- When you meet someone new for the first time, what questions do you ask? What do you want to know?
You might ask questions like these.
- What’s your name?
- Where do you live?
- How old are you?
- What school do you go to?
- What are you into?
- What kind of music do you like?
- Which football team do you support?
Do the answers to these questions make us who we are? Is our identity found in these responses?
- Let’s consider the question of identity as we listen to this story.
Eliza sat in her English lesson, no longer listening to the teacher. She was miles away, wondering how she could get out of doing this latest assignment. In front of her, at the top of a piece of blank paper, were three words: ‘Who are you?’
And it was these three words that had sent this ordinary 16-year-old into a blind panic. She knew who other people thought she was. She knew how her friends would describe her: popular, funny, always cheerful, would do anything for anybody – that kind of thing.
She also knew that this description was far from the truth.
Absent-mindedly, Eliza scratched at the fresh scabs on her arm under her shirt as her mind drifted back to when she was younger. She had been happy then and everyone had loved her for it. She always had a smile on her face and people in the street would comment on what a sunny disposition she had. Her mum and dad told her how pleased they were that she was happy all the time. So, on the occasions when Eliza didn’t feel happy, she wouldn’t tell anyone because she was afraid that they would be disappointed in her and not love her any more. She would pretend to be happy and no one ever seemed to notice the sadness behind the smile.
In fact, she was so good at making people smile that her mum would send her into her older sister’s room to try to cheer her up and make her eat something. Her dad would get her to make her older brother laugh and forget his angry temper. She would try to stop her mum worrying about her health and her dad worrying about his stressful job.
That was who she was. That was what she did. That was what she was good at.
‘Eliza, you must get started now. This is a controlled assessment and you haven’t written anything yet.’ Her teacher was looking over her shoulder at the blank piece of A4 on Eliza’s desk.
Slowly, Eliza picked up her pen and began to write. This is what she wrote.
Pick up Eliza’s essay and read out the following words.
You do not know who I am and you do not want to know. If you knew who I really was, you would not want to know me. I cannot tell you who I am because I have never told anyone. I have never told anyone who I am because no one has ever asked. I’m not sure I even know who I am any more. You should not have asked me this question.
- We don’t know what happened after this. Maybe Eliza failed the assessment. Maybe life continued as normal for her. Maybe she went home and continued to self-harm. Maybe she found some other way to cry out for help. Maybe her teacher recognized her unhappiness and got Eliza the help that she needed.
Maybe Eliza is like some of us here today. How would you answer her essay question?
Time for reflection
Who are you?
Perhaps you’re a son, a daughter, a brother, a sister, a grandchild, a cousin or a friend. Maybe you’re a nerd, a geek, a rebel, a trendsetter. Or the class clown, the class bully, a misfit, a legend.
When all the labels have been stripped away, who are you really?
Kind, generous, popular, cool.
Plain, boring, serious, mature.
Mean, spiteful, cheeky, rude.
Supportive, caring, funny, independent.
When all the adjectives have been stripped away, who are you really?
Who are you?
An amazing artist, a great dancer, a remarkable pianist.
A wonderful cook, a wicked rugby player, a computer genius.
When all the skills have been stripped away, who are you really?
We all hide behind our roles.
We all hide behind what other people think we are like.
We all hide behind our talents.
Let us have the courage to discover who we really are.
Let us have the confidence to demonstrate who we really are.
Let us have an open mind to accept others as they really are.
Let us have an opportunity to celebrate who we really are.
Light a candle and let the students spend a few moments in silence.
Please note there are many services offering help with issues relating to mental health. You may wish to make extra information available during the assembly.
Some useful examples are:
‘I am amazing’ by Philippa Hanna, available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fVNKj0fbMiU (4.21 minutes long)