Desire to be different: Students embrace quirks

Editor's note: Patrick Murphy is a former employee of The Daily News

They ignore the status quo or walk around in costume, not seeming to care that they’re different than those around them. These students who choose not to conform to societal norms say they do it for a variety of reasons — because they feel like it, it garners attention or it boosts their confidence. Here are their stories:

The Superhero: He does it because he feels like it 

Austin Zimmerman decided he would do it. He would wear the cape to class. He draped the long, black, stretchy fabric over his shoulders. A special strap looped around his arms and tied behind his back, securing the cape in place.

He put his backpack on over the cape and left his dorm room. The walk from Noyer to Robert Bell was short, but still long enough for people to notice. He debated taking it off at least a dozen times, tucking it away in his backpack as if he never had it on in the first place. But he pressed on, despite the stares from those he passed on McKinley Avenue.

Finally, he made it to the classroom door. He held his breath and walked inside. The classroom was arranged so the students already in their seats had their backs to those walking in the door. He slipped in and sat down nearly unnoticed, as if nothing were out of the ordinary. A few of his classmates caught a glimpse of him and shot him a quizzical look. But this was to be expected with wearing a superhero cape to class.

“I was nervous as hell,” he said.

Zimmerman is a sophomore theater design and technology major, but to some, he is a superhero.

Zimmerman wears a knee-length cape nearly all the time. The only times he doesn’t is if it is too hot out for cape-wearing or if he doesn’t think it works with his outfit that day — which is based on his mood on a day-to-day basis.

He makes each cape himself out of stretchy, polyester fabric from a craft store. His capes take only a few minutes to create, as he simply cuts them to the right length and then attaches his special strap — or sometimes a button — to fasten behind his back or around his neck.

His color choices are red, blue, black, gray, purple and white — because even superheroes need options.

Wearing a cape around campus gets him a lot of attention, but despite the stares and confused expressions, the attention is mostly positive.

Zimmerman said he wears a cape because he feels like it, and because to him, it is a symbol of overcoming obstacles. Zimmerman was bullied throughout middle and high school — a social outcast, as he puts it.

Today, he chooses not to trouble himself with the concerns of others, especially when it comes to wearing his capes.

“I am my own person,” he said. “I can’t be controlled by everyone else.”

It can be tiring to see downcast, averted eyes when he enters a room. Or worse, when intoxicated college students pass by him and yell at him to take his cape off. But, the positive reactions outweigh the bad, especially when others confront him and tell him they admire him for being himself. Some say he inspires them to do the same.

“[Zimmerman] is his own superhero, if you ask me,” his friend Riley Gray said.

The Wizard of Ball State: He has a dream

Patrick Murphy dresses in a dark blue wizard gown with star and moon trimming around the sleeves. It matches his pointed wizard's hat that tilts slightly to the left atop his head. He adds to the look with a chest-length, stringy white beard. The final piece is a plastic wand that is split along the handle and no longer lights up.

Murphy is a member of Ball State’s Ultimate Frisbee team, which is where his wizard dressing began. The team members joked amongst themselves that they are wizards, and Murphy began dressing like one to entertain his teammates.

Murphy, a news journalism major, has dressed in his wizard attire every Wednesday since September — a tradition he’s dubbed “Wizard Wednesday.” Murphy has deemed himself The Wizard of Ball State, which has become his personal mascot.

Murphy aspires to be Charlie Cardinal one day; mascots have always fascinated him. He planned to audition to be Charlie this year, but he went on a bike ride before auditions, lost track of time and missed his opportunity. He plans to try again in the future.

For now, Murphy will focus on being the wizard. Dressing up empowers him, he said. He stands out from the crowd, makes others happy and can practice being a mascot in case future opportunities arise.

“It makes me different and unique in a way nobody else can be,” Murphy said. “It gets kind of boring looking through the same lens every day. Everybody is the same.”

Although Murphy embraces his individuality and loves dressing as the wizard, sometimes the attention he receives can get to him. One day, he intentionally sat alone in a corner to eat lunch, avoiding human interaction and hoping people would not notice the guy in full wizard attire.

To his surprise, someone had snapped a picture of him in that corner and posted it to Yik Yak.

His picture received more than 150 up-votes. Ball State seemed to approve of the wizard in an anonymous picture, but that hasn’t always been the case in real life.

On Wizard Wednesdays, Murphy is met with unsure reactions from his classmates. They give him puzzled glances and don’t interact with him as much.

All that matters to Murphy is that he does what makes him happy. For now, that is being a mascot of his own creation.

The Artist with Antennae: He spreads happiness

Colby Golden, a graduate student studying art and animation, wears pipe cleaner antennae. They are twisted together and wrapped around his glasses. They protrude from the sides of his head like antlers — and attract the attention of those he passes in the hallways.

Golden has worn his antennae for around seven years now. It all started when he worked at a daycare center. His glasses broke, and the only way to hold them together was to wrap them in pipe cleaners.

It was a few months before he could get new glasses, so he wore his antennae every day. When he finally got new ones, a few of the kids were startled by his ordinary appearance.

“You’re not [Golden],” he recalled one kid saying.

Thinking quick on his feet, Golden dashed into a supply closet to his side and grabbed pipe cleaners. He wrapped them around his glasses and then sprang out of the closet.

The kids were content now that Golden had his antennae back.

Golden continued to wear his antennae every day, changing them up from time to time, despite the pleas from his mother to stop. He once attached googly eyes to each one. Right now, they are a spiral of pink, blue and yellow.  

Golden refuses to take off his antennae because after contemplation, he realized they were a part of him — and always had been. He was an odd kid, he said. He never fit in throughout school and always seemed a bit out of place. Metaphorically, he’s always had antennae that made him different.

Although his antennae are a subtle twist on conformity, he yields a variety of reactions. Some people laugh, some smile, some make fun of him. The occasional person is freaked out. Once, two kids made cow noises at him as he walked by, assuming the antennae were bullhorns.

Golden said the antennae make him feel like a celebrity. People will stop and stare as he walks by like they would with a movie star.

“I like knowing I make other people’s day a little bit brighter,” Golden said. “Whether they’re laughing with me or at me, I was still the reason they laughed that day.”

Golden said he feels worthwhile when he creates a work of art and when others notice his antennae. Antennae are used in our society to transmit signals and send out information. Golden’s antennae function in pretty much the same way — they allow him to transmit happiness. 

Whether people approve of them or not, Golden can bring joy to those who notice his antennae, which he said makes him feel good in return.


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