After the initial glamour of college wears off, most freshmen are left with one unnerving reality: two dreaded years of a random assortment of required courses. Though I found myself fighting to stay awake during “20th Century Humanities” and “U.S. Government,” passing them was a breeze. Intermediate algebra on the other hand, scared the hell out of me.
First off, algebra?! The word alone petrifies me. It brings back memories of skipping school to have Netflix marathons with my dog and avoid adult responsibilities. To make matters worse I had tested into intermediate algebra–one grade level below target. It was going to be a rough semester. In college, mom and dad wouldn’t be able to come to parent–teacher conferences and beg the teacher to give me another chance.
I knew without my mom’s heartfelt pleas with my high school algebra teacher I would have never walked across the stage in a cap and gown. It was my senior year, and when I wasn’t giving myself a Senior Skip Day, I was catching up on much needed ZZZ’s; sleeping straight through factoring polynomials. I was sure I was a goner, but thanks to a spectacular learning curve, I pushed my way into the graduating class.
This would be my second attempt at passing a math class. My first semester was something I had only seen in movies. I realized two weeks into the course that I was in WAY over my head. After weighing my options, I decided it would be best to drop the class and take it again in the spring. OK, I thought. At least now you know what you’re getting yourself into.
That seemed to calm my anxiety. The next semester I strolled into the classroom with confidence and found a seat in the front row (OK, the middle row), took notes religiously and raised my hand when I didn’t understand. I was a model student in class, but giving in to the temptation of partying after school soon hit me hard in the GPA. I wanted the best of both worlds–good grades and a social life–and I was naïve enough to think it would come easily.
Unbelievably, my confidence didn’t waver. After bombing a test I would race home in tears, have a meltdown for a few hours and then be perfectly fine the next day. I was in total denial. My sour mood began to rub off on my family. My parents, who were paying for my tuition out-of-pocket, were on edge. They threatened to stop paying for college altogether if I didn’t get serious and make an honest effort. I kept promising myself, “I’ll actually study this time.” Even though I knew I had only weeks to catch up, I kept putting off preparing for the final.
It should’ve been no surprise when final grades were posted that I received a dazzling “F.” The sting of disappointment that followed reminded me that I had no one to blame but myself. I couldn’t look my parents in the eye when I broke the news.
Coming from a family who thinks it’s cute when I dance to Salsa music “como pura gringa,” like a true American, I was unfamiliar with feeling ashamed in front of my parents. They told me it was unbelievable how I would have to take the same class for a third time. My mother was furious. “I came to this country and had to learn math in a foreign language. If I can do it so can you!”
For the rest of the summer I traded tanning by the pool for planning for my future. I cut my hours at work and signed up for intermediate algebra–AGAIN. Third time’s the charm isn’t it? After four months of all-nighter study sessions, I passed my class with a “B.” Failing was the best thing that could have happened to me.
Everyone needs a reality check at some point in their lives and I couldn’t be more thankful that mine came early. Before getting too far into my studies, I realized that school is my priority because I want to be somebody someday. The new me would never let something as trivial as algebra get in the way of my dreams.
More importantly I learned that I had something no one could take away from me: my ambition. I don’t take “no” for an answer anymore. The lessons I learned from failing spilled over into my academic life. In my last two semesters at community college, I was placed on the dean’s list, and then the president’s list. I’ve come a long way from that girl that thought her notes scribbled in purple ink were the key to success.
In the words of Beyoncé: “I’m a survivor,” and I sure as hell am not going to give up. Because you know what? It feels damn good to get what you want. Not the handed-on-a-silver-platter kind of accomplishment, but the real deal. Breaking a sweat and having something to show for it is the sweetest victory.