What Happened to Favorites?

My least favorite year of my life was 2007. I was in kindergarten, and we had a class-wide spelling bee. I would go to bed every night with my mom quizzing me on words such as “can” and “ham” and “am” and “fan” and “ran” and “man” and “ram” and “lamb.” These words — yes, even the ones with the silent letters — weren’t of difficulty for me. I breezed through my nightly spelling quizzes and, in perhaps some sick and twisted way, looked forward to showing off my quick and accurate spelling abilities to my own mother. On the day of the class-wide bee, I was confident and excited. I knew I had this thing in the bag. Much as I expected, I bopped to the top, besting my opponents without a drop of remorse. I had my eyes on the prize. As soon as I thought I had won, however, my teacher asked me to spell a bonus word. Favorite. Favorite? I was five years old. I was innocent, joyful, and just a child. How would I know how to spell “favorite”? I panicked and, to my own demise, spelled the word embarrassingly incorrectly. Yes, I had won the spelling bee technically. But my win came with the immense loss of not knowing how to spell that one eight-letter word, that one word that has haunted me, and will continue to haunt me, for as long as I live. 

Today, despite still not recovering from that kindergarten spelling bee, the word “favorite” hasn’t been entirely tainted for me. I associate many positive memories with that word. When I was younger, around the time of the incident, adults would often ask me my favorite color. I, of course, would always respond, “Rainbow!” as I wasn’t able to pick just one. It’s about the essence. Around this time, people would also ask me questions about my favorite sibling, my favorite kid’s show, my favorite teacher, etc. Later in life, as I entered college, these questions reemerged.

“What’s your favorite color?” “What’s your favorite class you’ve ever taken?” “Who’s your favorite author?” “What’s your favorite book?” “What’s your favorite movie?” “Favorite food?” “Favorite travel destination?” “Favorite politician?” “Favorite singer?” These are all questions I was asked with fervent frequency during freshman orientation at Swarthmore. I’m here to ask you all today, why has no one asked me about any of my favorites since then?I have a lot on my mind. I’m always consuming media, always thinking, always in deep contemplation. If someone asked me my favorite color, I could produce an elaborate answer, one that transcends far past the meaning of the original question and, even further, one that transcends past the meaning of the word, “favorite.” It would be a great conversation starter. It could serve as a type of glue that brings people together and holds them tightly in embrace. If someone asked me my favorite show, I could go into depth about GTL (gym, tan, laundry), the social movement that took the world by storm and increased productivity for billions across the globe after its origin and popularization through the show, Jersey Shore. If someone asked me my favorite food, I could sustain a conversation until the 2028 presidential election regarding all the delicious bites I’ve had in my lifetime. I’m just a 22-year-old girl. I’m 5’2”. I love clumpy mascara and bad fake tans and platform shoes and spelling words better than my friends and reading books by Deepak Chopra and wearing wide-leg pants. Please, just ask me about my favorites. And don’t stop there. Ask your neighbor. Ask your friends. Ask your child. Ask yourself.

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