Originally written on May 16 2015, one day before my college graduation.
I have a chip on my shoulder.
Math has always been my kryptonite, my Achilles heel, and the voice of doubt in my head that whispered, “you’re too dumb, you can’t do it.”
When I was in kindergarten I remember having trouble learning how to count time on analog clocks (it still takes me a while to tell what time it is if the long hand isn’t on the 3, 6, or 9). In third grade I had to count invisible dots on my fingers to multiply anything by 8 or larger. I was kept back in 7th grade at the Academy of the Pacific Rim (APR) for having a 60 average in math class. Biology and chemistry never clicked for me either.
In high school I was always discouraged – my averages in English, History, and Mandarin Chinese would be in the high 80s to low 90s, juxtaposed with 20s and 30s for Math and Science. In 11th grade, things got so bad that instead of going to math class I’d grab a chair and sulk in the bathroom until my teacher, Ms. B (God bless her for putting up with me) made someone come get me. Sitting in math class made me depressed. I’d stare blankly at a white board filled with parentheses and variables and y plus this and that and I’d look around and wonder how the hell anyone else in class could make sense of it. I felt dumb, and feeling dumb made my heart beat fast and my flesh boil. It still does.
Eventually I took some tests, which told me that my memory sucks and it takes me a while to grasp mathematical and strategic concepts. I was given an IEP for having a “math phobia.”
“Sitting in math class made me depressed. I’d stare blankly at a white board filled with parentheses and variables and y plus this and that and I’d look around and wonder how the hell anyone else in class could make sense of it. I felt dumb, and feeling dumb made my heart beat fast and my flesh boil. It still does.”
Despite my disdain for math, and my fear of math, I always had words. I had my books, short stories, poems, and analytical and rhetorical essays. I always had art too– I know how to draw and I taught myself the basics of photoshop. I also love of music and taught myself how to make basic mixes with audacity. I don’t know the math and science behind wavelengths but I can figure out where a beat starts, stops, and starts a gain. I even got into photography. With all of this creativity in me I still felt like my life was destined for failure because I’d never be able to find x, or figure out how the hell you make a graph with a T-83 graphic calculator.
Some how I graduated high school and was accepted into Suffolk University. Things didn’t work out and I went to Massasoit Community College in Canton for two years. I didn’t get my Associate’s degree because I couldn’t pass an accounting class (why the hell did I take accounting?!) I said screw it and transferred to the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth where I met my roommates who became best friends, and many others who will be my friends for life. I started out as a psychology major but after failing College Algebra with Fs twice and failing Statistics for Psychology with Fs twice, I was put on academic probation. With my IEP from APR in hand, I was given the exclusive luxury of extra time on math exams. If you weren’t aware, if you don’t know what to do in the first place, extra time just allows you to sulk in misery just a little bit longer. I said screw it (again) and finally decided to do what I love. I became an English major. Guess what happened? I made straight As and the Chancellor’s List. The rest of my undergraduate career I made the Dean’s List about every other semester.
Two years ago I received a congratulatory email from the university for graduating when I wasn’t going to. It quite possibly could have been a simple mistake, but it still stung at the time because I knew I didn’t reach all of my required credits and didn’t apply to graduate. I felt like I was behind in life. I became so consumed with graduating and schoolwork that I sacrificed a lot of quality time with friends back home and on campus – living in the library, completing assignments two weeks ahead of time, and hoping that one day I’d work a miracle and get a C in a math class. Last summer, when I passed Quantitative Reasoning with a C-, I bought myself a cake. I was so driven to finish, driven to get a degree, driven to prove that I didn’t need to know how to find x to be successful, driven to catch up.
Thinking back on it now, if I didn’t repeat 7th grade I probably wouldn’t be as close with any of my best friends from APR who have become family. I spent two years in Canton with no degree to show for it but many courses transferred as electives. I sort of wasted a year as a psychology major but the timing allowed me to graduate in January of 2015 - paving the way to be in the right place at the right time to get an amazing job opportunity. Two days after I moved out of my campus apartment I was offered a full-time position.
Everyone would tell me that we all have different paths and I wasn’t trying to hear it at the time but it’s true.
Since December, I crash-landed in the real world. It’s a stark and ironic contrast from feeling like you’re missing out on starting your life while you’re still in school to feeling like you’re missing out on senior week working from an office on Beacon Hill. But I love my job. It’s challenging and tiring but I’m doing work that matters and work that helps people in need. I don’t miss school at all, and I say that because I’m ready to do something else.
“Everyone would tell me that we all have different paths and I wasn’t trying to hear it at the time but it’s true.”
I’d like to thank my parents for all of their love and support, my brother and sister, aunts and uncles and cousins for their encouragement, my friends for putting up with me blowing them off because I didn’t feel like I deserved to go out and have fun, my teachers, principles, coach and advisers at APR who never gave up on me, the professors at UMD who made learning fun, and my boss for believing in me.
Today I finally get to reflect on my accomplishments and be proud of myself. I’m going to stick my chest out and enjoy this. I’m going to let my guard down and smile. Two years in community college, four years at UMD, and a whole bunch of debt later, I did it. I may never lose the chip on my shoulder completely but I think it’s getting smaller.