As I sit on my flight home, unsatisfied by peanuts and pretzels, and complaining about my lack of legroom, I can’t help but notice how tall I am. My height has simply become a mainstay of my life, one that I spend living four standard deviations from the mean. Being tall isn't always easy, though. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I was able to ride Space Mountain when I was three and my family never loses me in a crowd. But it can be frustrating when all people seem to notice is that I am tall. By now, I know how to reply to the typical height-related questions; a good-natured “I ate a lot of vegetables as a kid” is usually enough to satisfy them. But as annoying as my height can be, in a funny way, it’s been one of my biggest motivators.

From the time I was small (in age at least) I’ve found that I have an innate need to fill my own shoes – to live up to, quite literally, my size. Because of my height, teachers have always assumed I was older than I was. Instead of correcting them, I tried to rise to a higher standard, always putting out work befitting a much more advanced student. My size has translated into an ability to go above and beyond the normal level of intellectual investigation for my age, without the fear of being told that I am too young to understand. In this way, being tall has become a gift; it has molded me into a stronger student and person. I find myself searching every day for a new way to challenge myself, whether it be memorizing world capitals (one hundred down) or learning a new language. My hunger for knowledge, believe it or not, greatly outweighs my hunger for food (and I eat a lot of food).

Being tall doesn’t mean I have a bigger heart than other people. Nonetheless, my height does have some practical advantages for aiding those in need. At the soup kitchen where I volunteer, people really rely on me…to get boxes from the top shelf.  I’m the go-to person for keeping supplies up high and out of the reach of children at a local clinic. When helping to rebuild a community center in Peru, I was used as a human ladder, letting others sit on my shoulders to paint the top of the building. I’m not sure if the local men were more thankful for my help or amazed at my height; I stood more than a foot taller than each of them. I know that true stature has nothing to do with size.  But it does feel good to be able to use my height as an advantage for someone other than myself.

My search for knowledge, driven largely in part by my height, has led me to find joy whenever I learn anything new. So when I find myself sitting in the middle seat of the car, knees pressed against my chest, I find comfort in knowing that the same characteristic that is causing me so much grief has given me the freedom to be as big as I want to be.