“It’s Time to Be Real…Really”

2022 C4K Fellow Sriya (Girls Who STEAM) won The Dr. Robert H. LeBow ’58 Memorial Oratorical Competition held Friday, March 3, at The Pingry School. Her thought-provoking talk focused on how “rejection, failure, and flaws may be uncomfortable to talk about, but they’re inevitable, and hiding them from others will only mean more unnecessary curating in our lives.”

Way to go, Sriya! You can watch all the inspiring speeches here and read Sriya’s riveting address below.

It’s Time to Be Real…Really

By Sriya Tallapragada

Picture this: It’s a perfectly ordinary Tuesday afternoon in the Pingry cafeteria when, suddenly, a notification goes off on our phones. Don’t worry. It’s not another homework post on Schoology, or a colorful message from an overly chatty group text. It’s not even a desperate email from the crusher of dreams itself, College Board. No, this notification comes from a place of much more power, carrying an announcement of utmost importance. Ladies and gentlemen, brace yourselves because it… is time to be BeReal. I watch as groups of people around me intensely huddle to fit into camera frames, striking quick poses before the selfie is taken. I myself open up the app and snap a blurry photo of the tomato soup in front of me, along with a rather unimpressive selfie of myself. 

Without any hesitation, I press post.

Welcome to the world of BeReal, where the rules are simple. We all receive a single daily notification with those three anxiety-inducing words: “Time to BeReal!” We have two minutes to take a picture. We post. We scroll. In an internet built on filters, both literally and figuratively, BeReal has been topping recent app charts solely because it exists as a disruption.

Now, as wonderful as this all sounds, posting the uglier parts of your life is much easier said than done. See, it’s a term that my friends and I jokingly refer to as BeFake; When people ignore the time requirement entirely, and only post when they are doing something “interesting” enough. I’m not proud to admit it, but my account data showed that only 6% of my posts over the past year have been on time. This means that I deemed a shocking 94% of my life too embarrassing to share, even on an app whose very name instructs transparency.

How is that for authenticity?

Maybe I shouldn’t be so surprised. After all, presenting an optimized version of ourselves to others is only human nature. To think that an app like BeReal could change this habit is superficial, considering that it is also a trademark of plain-old everyday life. 

Here is an example: just the other day, when someone asked me how my weekend went, I chose to talk about my twenty-minute nature hike, as opposed to the five hours I wasted binge-watching true crime shows on Netflix. I made this decision solely because, as the girl who barely passed her eighth-grade fitness test, talking about my hike portrayed me as far more athletic than I am. I’ll be the first to call this out for what it is: self-curation at its finest.  

Science has also picked up on this trend. In a study done back in 2019, the University of Chicago researchers asked teachers to think about both a time of personal success in the classroom and one of failure. When asked which the teachers would share, more than two-thirds chose their success story. I am unsurprised: We all like to look good in front of others. It’s why we might “dress to impress” when we want to make a good impression. It’s why we stress out about public speaking opportunities, like this Competition, because of the prospect of potentially embarrassing ourselves in front of others. It is even why we might take our BeReal at a more exciting time than when the notifications come out. 

The dark side of this trend is that it could lead to an informational imbalance. Here is an example: despite popular belief that the paper only ever sells bad news, since 1851, two times as many articles have been published about “success” versus “failure” in the New York Times. This ratio even holds in the sports section, even though for every player that wins, there must be another that loses. Similar situations are reflected in everyday life. The issue with this is that, by only sharing our highlights, we are suppressing everything else, leading to an unrealistic standard of perfection.

There is no shame in wanting to put your best foot forward. But to what extent can we justify hiding our flaws before we present a completely warped version of ourselves to others? Just look at George Santos. What differentiates him from the typical trope of a “lying politician” is the extent of his lies, both personal and professional, all so that he could appear “flawless” to voters. So, who is Santos? He fabricated his identity so profoundly that no one can answer that anymore. While this magnitude of lying might be exclusive to the elites of Washington, the personal curation we do on a daily basis can have the same effect. 

In writing this speech, I realized that I would, quite frankly, be a hypocrite if I ended it without facing my fear of sharing failure. Growing up in a household that would religiously read the Sunday paper, I idolized the professional journalists behind those groundbreaking stories. My goal was always to be a published writer, a dream that I decided to start chasing last year. So, I wrote my first article, crossed my fingers, and sent it to the politics editor of the Washington Post. 

You probably aren’t surprised that I never heard back. However, being a wide-eyed, stubborn freshman, I wasn’t deterred just yet. Over the next few weeks, I cold-emailed a total of 76 editors, asking if someone, anyone, would be interested in publishing my writing. To my great disappointment, after vicariously refreshing my inbox over the next few days… crickets.

Don’t get me wrong; I’ve heard it all. Twelve editors rejected JK Rowling before publishing Harry Potter. Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team. Still, feeling ashamed of rejection is easy when you don’t know anyone else going through the same thing. 

The truth is that everyone in this room has failed in some way: there are awkward phases that we all went through, bad fashion choices that were made, college applications that were toiled over and rejected, and so much more. Realizing this made me feel a lot better about my own failure, and made the words “We regret to inform you…” hurt less and less. It’s also why I am on this stage, sharing my story with you. Rejection, failure, and flaws may be uncomfortable to talk about, but they’re inevitable, and hiding them from others will only mean more unnecessary curating in our lives. 

So go ahead, post that imperfect BeReal, despite what anyone else might think. Or take it a step further. Be honest with others about who you are: the highs and the lows, the successes and the failures. All of it. That is as real as it gets. Thank you.