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Beauty In the Struggle This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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In case my transcript isn't a clear enough indication, I am not and have never been a math person. I don't get excited at the thought of breaking down a polynomial, and in my free time, Sudoku would probably come last on my list-o-fun. During my educational career I heard it a million times: “You're just not a math person, Maeve.” I've taken it in, ducked around it in my head, and used it to silence the ongoing internal dialogue. Generally the phrase allowed me to keep my head up through a few failed tests, one yelling mother, and numerous worried teachers. Yet every day, I find myself in this flirtatious relationship of mixed signals on the chalkboard, so I cannot escape through the open graphs and thick brackets that lock me in. It's not that I fear math, or even hate it; we just don't get along.

Honestly, by now the word itself makes me queasy. It means much more than statistics and formulas; it is a constant reminder of the failure of my last 13 years of schooling, the recurring memories of my classmates staring as I stumbled up to the chalkboard from first grade all the way to eleventh. It is a reminder of the countless hours I have spent going to teachers – both in school and out – to review tests and homework that I couldn't wrap my head around, while my friends carelessly pranced off to other enjoyable activities. It is a reminder of my classmates turning to me during group work and saying, “This is so easy, Maeve. Why don't you get it?” then listening to my parents when I got home, “What school is going to take you with these grades, Maeve?”

For a long time I thought there was something wrong with me. All the hours I spent studying seemed fruitless, the good grades constantly overshadowed by the bad. Sometimes it seemed like I had a cruel disease that prevented me from understanding, but that wasn't the case. I struggle at math, plain and simple.

In my junior year of high school, I experienced one of the most defining moments of my life. On this day, the teacher announced a new group project. For most kids group work is fun; for me it's a roadblock, a cul-de-sac, a barricading wall taunting me. When it comes to math group work, I am the timid child picked last for dodgeball. I am the kid in the corner. At 17, this is still true. As loud and sarcastic and outgoing as I can be, when it comes to math I feel out of my league – a league I don't aspire to play in.

Sitting in my seat, shuddering at the thought of finding a group, my friend Emily – a fellow math “genius” – and I decided to work together. No one else was going to ask us to partner up, so we would work at our own slow pace and see the teacher for whatever help we needed.

Walking through the halls later that day, I overheard a conversation between two other classmates working on the same project, a conversation that changed my way of thinking. They were laughing and I heard them say our names. “How stupid can those two be? I guess it's good they're together – then no one else has to be with dumb and dumber.” In that moment, years of embarrassment, self-consciousness, and disappointment rushed in and slapped me in the face.

But it didn't stop me. Emily and I did the project together and received an A against all odds. Sometimes being knocked down is what we need most; sometimes there's beauty in the struggle.

I know what you're probably thinking right now. Why in the world is this girl going on about how terrible she is at math? She's just digging herself into a hole. Maybe you're right. But I am not writing this essay to endorse the tantalizing theorems and mind-boggling equations that have conquered and devastated my GPA for the past four years. I am writing this because my lack of an A on every test does not mean I am incapable of changing the world.

I know that I'll be rejected from some schools, but my grades reflect only one part of my character. They do not show the Maeve who is capable of winning a three-mile cross-country race. They do not show the Maeve who was a leader on her sophomore retreat. They do not show the Maeve who took a 17-hour train ride to New Orleans to spend a week doing community service.

Do I think my grades accurately reflect my academic abilities? No. But I can speak, and I can write, and I can be personable and understanding. Maybe that's nothing compared to mastering trigonometry, but it's enough for me. Not because I don't have high standards but because I don't believe that my grades reflect who am I or what I am capable of doing. If given the chance, that is what I plan on proving. I recognize my limits and my talents. I accept my flaws. I accept that I will probably never be a mathematician, and I accept that there is beauty in the struggle.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.




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This article has 3 comments. Post your own!

lynoel said...
Dec. 13, 2011 at 6:07 am:
***There are plenty of schools who would love to have you ... Keep up the good work!*** I hope you will pursue writing, in some form or another ... you have an excellent talent for it .
 
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lynoel said...
Dec. 13, 2011 at 6:00 am:
I am actually entirely too old to be on this site, but I stumbled upon this article ... I love the way you describe and justify your relationship with mathematics! I was just the same way at your age ... don't sweat it! You're obviously a talented writer. I ended up majoring in English and loved it! There plenty of schools who would love to have you ... Keep up the good work!
 
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antoine said...
Apr. 2, 2011 at 2:32 pm:
Possibly the best college essay I have ever read. Unbelievable how you turned something negative into something so special about you. Hope you get in or got in to wherever you dream of going. 
 
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