The high-school senior stands in front of Walking to the Sky, the iconic sculpture on Carnegie Mellon’s campus. He is perplexed by its purpose and meaning.

Already planning to submit his deposit and confirmation to another school, Nate Bertone is in Pittsburgh solely because his mom insisted he visit the university before making his final decision about where to go to college. Of all the schools that accepted her son, she thought CMU was the most renowned, which is why she put him on a flight from Massachusetts to Pittsburgh.

V12n1 Fn 4Now, Bertone is standing outside of his comfort zone. And he decides that’s good. He wants to push his boundaries and leave the familiar behind. CMU ends up getting his deposit.

Three years later, he continues to embrace the idea of stepping outside his comfort zone. Through support from the Small Undergraduate Research Grant program—which funds materials and supplies for CMU undergraduates in all fields of study—he created We Wore the Masks.

In part, the Facebook photography series asks:

If you could choose five words that you feel you keep hidden from the world—either because you are afraid to share them, or because the world does not allow you to—what would those words be and why?”

In answering this question, participants have dared to peel back individual layers of their masks to release the thoughts and feelings hidden beneath.

Answers from the participants, many of whom are CMU students, are scrawled on their hauntingly introspective photos:

Introverted. Imperfect. Worthy. Guarded. Used. Unloved. Privileged. Hopeful. Emerging. Honest. Responsible. Learning. Alone.

Bertone, a junior studying scenic design, explains the project as an extension of the moment he first glimpsed at Walking to the Sky. He felt vulnerable and intimidated; yet he didn’t—or wouldn’t— share those emotions.

Given the stress culture that exists on college campuses, especially at top-performing schools such as CMU, Bertone conceived of the project to let his classmates know that they’re not alone in their vulnerabilities: “At times, all of us feel that if we want to get by, we have to work all of the time, and what that does is make us feel secluded.”

Bertone advocates students challenging themselves to “walk to the sky,” but to do so without feeling alone or isolated—without wearing a mask all of the time.

—Sasha Kerbel (DC’16)