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A Mathemagician never tells
Cultural conflict narrative.
I walked to the mailbox, stomach twisting and turning with every step. I stopped, looking at the last letter I would be getting from a college, because I hadn’t applied to any more. I ripped it open, and unfolded the letter, unable to look at it. I slowly opened my eyes, and immediately, my face fell.
Dear Ian, it read, The admissions committee has met, and I am sorry to inform you that you have not been accepted…
My name is Ian Wu. Everything about me is typically Chinese. I have the small eyes that look like I’m squinting at everything, I wear glasses, and even my last name is so typically Chinese. I mean it’s literally Wu. How Asian can you get? There’s just one thing that differentiates me from what people usually associate Asian people with. I am not smart. I don’t just mean I have no idea who the Mongols were, or what the area of a certain trapezoid is. I mean I didn’t get accepted into any college that I applied to.
The first day of school was pretty rough. I started school at the community college in my town. As I was walking through the halls, trying to find my classes, I felt like a deer caught in headlights. I swear it was as if these people hadn't even seen an asian person before. In fact, they probably hadn’t. I live in a town in New Jersey called Dorchester, and it is 98.93% white. The other 1.07% belongs to my family of four. My family moved here when I was 15, and my brother was 9. We didn’t realise that we would be aliens in our new town.
I found my class and automatically sat in the back row; a habit I had gotten from high school. Right away, people started to look at me with confusion, and disgust. Their bright skin blinded me. I had to turn away.
A white girl sat next to me.
“Why are you here?” She asked,
I didn’t understand her question.
“Why do you go to this college?” She said.
“I um didn’t get into any other colleges,” I said. Might as well be honest.
“But aren’t you people like really smart?” She said. “Like aren’t you supposed to go to the Ivy league schools?
I was completely baffled. Does this person really think that just because I was Asian, I was the top of the class? I just ignored her question and turned to the front of the room. Immediately I zoned out. The teacher’s voice just sounded like white noise to me, and put me right to sleep. I woke up to the teacher saying my name.
“Ian Wu?” he said, looking at me.
“Uh.. um.. Yes?”
“Did you read the book that was assigned over the summer? We will be going over it in class.”
Immediately I started to panic. I had totally forgotten about the summer work. It was so typical of me. Start the year off in a bad place, just like the years before.
After I confessed that I hadn’t read the book, he turned away, and said;
“That doesn’t seem like something you would do. Read it by next week. I’m sure that gives you more than enough time.”
No, I thought. That’s not enough time at all. In fact that would probably get me about a third of the way into a book. But I didn’t press it. I didn’t want to cause anymore attention than I was already getting.
The first month of school was all the same. I came to school, sat in my class, became interested in the fly trying to get out of the window, when I was supposed to be listening to the teacher, and then left. Finally, it was time for my english test. I didn’t know the materials, especially since I had finally just finished the book. I went to my seat, and started preparing for the worst, thinking to myself about how I can become a firefighter, like my dad if I fail college, then getting worried that they won’t accept me because I’m just too stupid, when a group of guys came in and rushed to sit next to me. I was very confused by this because usually no one wanted anything to do with me. While I was taking the test, I kept seeing them eyeing my paper, or pretending to drop their pencils to look at my test. So that’s all I was good for. They looked at me as if I was just a brain on legs. They weren’t very happy when they saw blank answers.
I got a 43.5 on that test. Off to a great start of the school year.
My parents weren’t very happy when they found out about the test. In fact, they weren’t happy when the found out about my first report card.
Or the second
Or the third.
They started talking about how I was a disgrace to the family, and how I never try. They started crying, and saying things like why couldn’t they have had a smarter boy. As if I didn’t feel like I belonged enough.
Math class was a joke. I looked at the paper, and it looked like it was in a different language.
One day, my math teacher told us that there was a math problem, that only a few people in the world have been able to figure out yet. He said that a lot of professors around the country were giving their students the problem to solve, and then sending their answers to the national math association to check.
What a joke. I mean who thought that the students in a community college would ever be able to figure out the answer to a math problem, when little else could.
We were given the problem.
It looked like a bunch of fractions and weird characters on a page. How is that even math? I couldn’t even find an equal sign. I put a random number with a really long decimal, just because I was bored, and knew that there was no way that I would be able to make anything of the problem.
Later that month, my parents got a phone call that I had gotten the right answer. My parents started crying, but this time out of happiness, and telling me how proud they were of me. I was just confused.
My name got put into a lot of newspapers, and even a few colleges got in touch with me.
It was kinda ironic.
There were also a bunch of people trying to interview me. I didn’t want them to interview me though because I wouldn’t have an answer on how I knew what to do. They called me the genius boy, and a mathematician, whatever that was, and even said how I came from a smart family when my family wasn't even very smart. They talked about how I had done terribly in school before, but that I was actually smart all along, and even wanted to do IQ tests on me.
All of my dreams of doing well in school was finally coming true. I was finally being the person that everyone thought I should be. The perfectly typical Chinese boy. But for some reason, it wasn't what I wanted anymore. It wasn't me anymore.
Harvard university got in touch with my family later in the year, saying something about a scholarship for me. I knew though that as much as I might have wanted to, that wouldn't make me happy. In fact, that made me realize that I do want to be a firefighter. That I don't care if I'm stupid, and that I still don't know who the mongols were.
My parents were surprised to say the least, when I told them of my new dreams. They strated crying again, and saying how I was throwing away the best thing that has ever happened to me. But I realised that for once, I needed to do something that made me happy. Not just something to please my parents.
I became a firefighter 2 years later.
And as for how I got my answer? Well a mathemagician never tells.