Forging My Own Identity

After my sister Anna graduated from Kenyon in 2020, I found my own path here.


It is fall 2014. I am 12 years old. My older sister, Anna, a junior in high school, returns home from a visit to a college that I have never heard of. It’s an hour away from our house in Columbus and, apparently, it’s the best, most amazing place she has ever been. My dad pulls up the Kenyon website on his trusty iPad and turns it to me. The first thing I see is a picture of John Green '00 walking down Middle Path. Being a 12-year-old reader in 2014, John Green is my very favorite author. I am astounded to see that the man whose books I had written fan fiction about (that’s a secret don’t tell anyone) had attended college so close to my hometown.

Anna says over our dad’s shoulder, “The author of that home for children book went there, too.” I’m surprised I am still conscious at this point. Ransom Riggs '01 had penned my favorite book series, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. Because of this, Kenyon was most certainly 12-year-old Ellie-approved, and it would continue to be discussed in my home as Anna’s dream school up until December 2015, when she received her early decision from Kenyon: a tearfully celebrated acceptance. Anna graduated high school the following May with a felt Kenyon crest hot-glued to her cap. Five years later, I would graduate from the same high school with the same name in felt on mine.

Even though my middle school literary idols went to Kenyon, I never expected to end up there myself. I wanted to forge my own path, separate from Anna and my twin sister Caroline. My college search began early during my sophomore year, and continued through junior year and after the pandemic began. My dream school was my mother’s, uncles’, grandpa’s, and great-grandpa’s alma mater, which I had been visiting annually for football games for as long as I could remember. Like Anna, I applied early for my dream school. Unlike her, I got rejected. It felt like my world had ended. Who was I if not following in my mother’s family’s far-reaching footsteps?

I applied to many other schools, mostly in Ohio. Shortly before applications were due, I texted Anna, “I think I’m going to apply to Kenyon after all. I won’t end up there, I just feel better applying than not.” And so, to my own surprise, I applied to Kenyon. And then, after much consideration, I realized that choosing a school just because it wasn’t Kenyon wasn’t forging my own path at all: it was rejecting my real wants, independent from my sister’s decision. After I received my acceptance from Kenyon the following spring, I visited campus for what felt like the hundredth time, this time on a masked and rainy tour. For the first time, I saw Kenyon not as Anna’s, but mine. And I knew I belonged here. 

Before young adult fiction authors were my idols, Anna was. I spent our childhood trying to emulate and impress her. I wanted to do everything she did. Our age gap made her an inspiring figure in my life: an endlessly cool and knowledgeable force which guided many of my young actions. It took me a long time to understand why this made her so irritated: as a youngest child, I didn’t understand what it was like to have a second shadow. And when I told her I wanted to go to Kenyon, she said, “I want you to go because you want to go. Not because I went.” And I wanted to go for me, not for her. Our shared love of our alma mater was just an added bonus. 

Me and Anna at Universal Studios in 2011 rocking our sunglasses.

Coming into Kenyon orientation in the fall of 2021 was an interesting experience. I knew what to expect at a surface level, having visited Anna there countless times before for her family weekends and Chamber Singers concerts, but was unsure how it would feel to live and study here. I was excited, though: Anna had made incredible friends at Kenyon who became second older sisters to me and Caroline, who attends Ohio State. I wasn’t sure how to approach my status as a sibling of a Kenyon alum. I wanted to forge my own identity as a Kenyon student while also taking advantage of my prior knowledge and access to a Kenyon expert in my sister.

I found that, despite Kenyon’s being a small school, I was able to create my own experience of this place, separate from Anna’s. While Anna was very involved in Chamber Singers, I’m most active in theater here at Kenyon. She majored in international studies and minored in Spanish, whereas I’m an English and drama double major. I do follow in her footsteps, however, as a tour guide. I find that I have a unique advantage in that position: I can provide perspective on my experiences and what Anna has told me of hers. So, even though I have my own Kenyon journey, it is not without many “Anna Kahle” name-drops. Because another thing we share is our accidental identity in our full names. At Kenyon, Anna was never just “Anna,” she was “Anna Kahle.” And I’m the same way: I’m “Ellie Kahle,” said often, as one word. 

Kenyon has changed both of our lives for the better and holds a special place in our hearts. And, of course, we love to trade juicy stories of Kenyon past and present. Although seven-year-old me would be thrilled to learn that Anna and I will share an alma mater and twelve-year-old me would be thrilled to learn that Ransom Riggs, John Green, and will I share an alma mater, twenty-one-year old me is thrilled to be exactly where she belongs.