He's worn and tattered but don't judge a book by its cover. Chris Butcher says his stuffed animal played a huge part of him getting into 20 colleges -- including six Ivy Leagues.
But more importantly, it helped the 18-year-old come to terms with his Blackness.
The Dalmatian actually belonged to Butcher's older brother, Taylor, who died when he was only a few months old.
The delicate toy, named Bigdog, has been with Butcher since day one.
"When I had negative encounters, I would come home and if I'm sitting in my bedroom, Bigdog was there for me, a reassuring object," Butcher said.
Butcher is a senior at Dwight Morrow in Englewood but felt he never fit in. He wrote about it in the essay part of his college application, admitting race was the source of his inner hatred.
He felt so defeated, he broke down and once again turned to Bigdog, but then had an ah-ha moment, writing, "if I did not let Big Dog's decaying structure define his worth, I was not going to let my Black skin, define mine."
"He's old, neck is falling apart and I use that to show how his outward appearance brings about judgment to how my Black skin brings judgment when people see me," Butcher said.
A major turning point for Butcher, who went on to start the Black Student Union at school, is he is now soaring and heading to Princeton in the fall.
And it's no surprise that Butcher has already decided he wants to major in Molecular Biology and also focus on African American Studies.
"I want to be a doctor, not sure of my specialty, maybe cardiology or emergency medicine," he said.
As for Bigdog, he wont be making the trip to Princeton but will stay home with Butcher's mom in his new role.
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Read Butcher's moving essay below:
One would think a stern warning from my pulmonologist, multiple emergency room visits due to triggered asthma, and an allergy to dust mites would resonate that I cannot have stuffed animals. However, I could never get rid of my stuffed Dalmatian, Bigdog (yes, his name is Bigdog). Bigdog has been through a lot. His spotted ashen gray torso, which was once white, reveals crevices where stuffing seeps out regularly through his fur. These deformities are just a few of the several that permeate his decrepit body. By examining his external appearance, anyone would think that he needs to be thrown out as there is no reason for me to keep this battered relic from my childhood. Yet, if one inquired about his significance, they would realize why he is so precious to me.
Bigdog often gets judged at first glance. His essence is determined by what people observe in two seconds, which is something both of us have in common. Like Bigdog, my outward appearance previously served as my only form of identity. As a Black male in a predominantly Asian high school magnet program, I felt I did not belong. My racial identity was always at the forefront of my mind. I did not speak up in Socratic seminars in fear of being labeled as the "dumb Black kid." When I did participate, I always spoke two octaves higher to make my presence less threatening. I even cut my hair believing it was nothing more than an ugly, nappy nuisance. I attempted to escape the identity that was inescapable: my Blackness. It was my ultimate hindrance, the source of my inner hatred and envy.
By the time I reached junior year, I was losing the war I waged within myself. Chasing my dream of becoming an emergency medicine physician, juggling intense coursework, all while trying to reject my blackness was unbearable and emotionally taxing. One late night after spending hours studying and contemplating my situation, I was defeated. I ran to my room and cried into Bigdog, wondering how I could ever be confident if no one ever looked beyond the color of my skin. My hopes and dreams were dashed, until I looked at Bigdog, and reminded myself: this is the same deteriorating stuffed animal whose identity is so much more than what meets the eyes. I realized that although people may not see his intrinsic value, I know his worth, and that is all that matters. In that moment, I made the choice that if I did not let Bigdog's decaying structure define his worth, I was not going to let my Black skin, define mine.
My wish to change the skin I am in never came true, and I am glad it did not. My internal struggle created a blueprint for me to discover my own sense of individuality. From that winter forward, replete with my newfound outlook, I embraced my identity and started living with purpose doing things I was once afraid to do. I founded the Black Student Union to help Black students going through similar identity crises navigate through their defeating and isolating high school experiences. In addition, I overcame my fear of public speaking by organizing and speaking at BSU's own Black Students Matter protest, maintaining contact with community leaders, and working closely with the Bergen County NAACP. I no longer feared what others would think of me, beginning to unapologetically be myself. I stopped trying to prove I belonged and demonstrated why I belong.
Bigdog, my beloved stuffed dog, helped me learn to re-write my own story, appreciate Blackness in my own terms, and challenge the stereotypes placed upon me. I am endlessly comfortable and confident with who I am. I can be myself in my own skin because my Blackness does not define me; I define myself.
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