I narrowed my eyes and leaned closer to the computer screen.

The fall of my senior year in high school had arrived in all its glory and anticipation; junior year had passed, and a brilliant future of freedom and relaxation loomed ahead. But instead of enjoying the legendary "senior slide," I dolefully found myself glued to the computer, filling out the endless essays and forms that would hopefully allow me to attend the college of my dreams.

Filling out my basic information was easy; my ACT and AP scores had been sent. Yet one area of the application still remained unfinished. I looked at the essay questions of my college applications, feeling a slight twinge of panic.

"Imagine your tombstone. What three words would you inscribe upon it that reflect your life or character?"

"What is your passion? How does fulfilling your passion influence the lives of others?"

At the ripe old age of 18, trying to place my life's purpose in total focus seemed impossible. Deep questions about life, like, "Why are we here? What is the meaning of life? What is destiny?" seemed somewhat premature to ask kids still living with their parents.

Learning to drive a car had been a step into adulthood — but these deep questions seemed to require years of wisdom I couldn't possibly possess.

Two years later, I don't think the essays meant to simply ask impossible questions. Finding identity, and finding purpose, is an essential element of the human experience.

People cannot simply exist in a state of perpetual activity without a driving force or motivation. Our beliefs and our goals shape us in indescribable ways, and understanding one's identity — and acting upon these beliefs — creates the foundations for change and movement within humanity.

Great leaders didn't appear on the world stage without something powerful to say.

Despite the disapproval of others, or suppression, or obstacles, the world's heroes understood their ideas about life and communicated them in ways that influenced others. Religious movements begin with such individuals as Moses, Jesus and Muhammad; their actions and words rang with clarity of purpose, and the world's ideas about the supernatural changed.

Scientists with monumental discoveries often stick by their findings and defend, like Galileo or Darwin. Even our favorite superheroes, such as Superman or Batman, have principles upon which they stand — and we love them for it.

On a personal level, identity is paramount to shaping one's life in a meaningful way. Seeking identity can look a little bit different for everyone, but pursuing truth and purpose is absolutely necessary for a fulfilling life. Many philosophers disagree, and take on a decidedly more defensive posture that remains skeptical of many major beliefs.

I think believing in one's identity and purpose takes immense courage. Readily conforming to the ideals of others comes naturally, but maintaining a course of ideals requires fortitude and strength.

College allows us an unrivaled opportunity to understand our ideals and discover purpose in life, with people and ideas that may contrast or contradict things we once believed.

True principles will stand despite the tests and questions presented or will otherwise be altered. Pursuing purpose and identity not only offers great fulfillment, but it also creates self-respect and results in the respect of others. Our lives, and the people who we impact, will directly correlate to our purpose and depend on our beliefs—or lack thereof.

One of America's most prolific authors, Cormac McCarthy, speaks beautifully to this very point:

"I don't know what sort of world she will live in, and I have no fixed opinions concerning how she should live in it. I only know that if she does not come to value what is true above what is useful, it will make little difference whether she lives at all."

Sarah Hagaman is a sophomore in English. She can be reached at shagama1@utk.edu.