A Hero’s Journey

A student writes about the inspiration for his senior class bookmark. 

By
Zheheng Xiao ’21
July 23, 2021
Zheheng Xiao

When I first came to Exeter as a prep, I was very lonely. In a country where everyone is different, I felt, more than ever, the particularity of my being. I wanted to fit in, wanted to be accepted, wanted to have someone to talk to who could understand me and tell me that I was not alone.

It was then that I found Jean-Christophe. It is a novel recording the life trajectory of a fictional German musician (who ultimately inspired me to learn piano at Exeter). In Jean-Christophe

I saw myself: sometimes confused, sometimes passionate, always changing. We had the same struggles, same questions, same doubts and fears. In a time where I was learning how to live by myself, it was my motivation and my comfort.

I am a senior now, with my own group of friends, but I still seek out Jean-Christophe. I think a book is amazing this way: It is always there, waiting to talk to you. It strips away the trivialities of life, and in that pocket of time, it allows you to reflect through the deepest parts of your being.

In each of my recommended books and plays, you’ll find a protagonist who grapples with the quintessential question of what it means to be human. They have inspired me to think, to open up, and most important, they have accompanied me in a precarious time of my life. They are my heroes.