“Required extra credit.” The words throbbed in my brain like a cheesy dance beat from the ’80s. I have always been an expert procrastinator but I somehow manage to get things done. Over-achiever that I am, I had taken honors chemistry that year - what a fiasco! Thankfully, my teacher, Mr. Comer, allowed students to design any experiment, as long as it was science-related. I chose biology, because I understood and cared more about greenery and flowers than atoms and molecules.
Now, you have to understand that I never do anything half-heartedly. Ask me to do an extra-credit assignment and I will passionately put in the work and effort to earn that credit. So, though I resented having to forego my daily five hours of music rehearsal, I carefully studied my cut-flower experiment and recorded my observations. The weekend before it was due, I whipped together a three-paneled posterboard which demonstrated, in glorious green ribbon and three-dimensional variables and constants, that 7-UP is, by far, the most effective liquid for preserving cut flowers. Bleach is highly harmful, despite the old wives’ tale that it provides nutrients. Though I moaned throughout the process of noting each tulip’s every petal, leaf and stem condition, I found that it was actually rather nice to have something constructive to do with my anal tendencies. This assignment was sure to earn me an A, and best of all, it would all be over on Monday.
Monday’s science fair came around and I carted my crafty presentation and adjective-loaded observation journal to the cafeteria. I filled out the sign-in sheet and found my assigned number was 18. Hmm, I thought, 18 is a good number, nice and even. Maybe it’ll be a corner table where no one will notice if I sneak off early! With that in mind, I was jarred from my daydream when I saw a huge sign that read “18-23.” Were there only five of us in the biology section?
Great. Now how am I supposed to disappear? I remember thinking, longing to be finished with this cursed, nerdy science event. I glanced at my project on desk 18. Its frilly ribbon and bouquet of tulips stuck out like a sore, green thumb. I began skulking around the cafeteria and it hit me: My project stinks! It’s flashy, simple and seemingly frivolous. The judges would surely never give it a second glance and then I wouldn’t have to go on to the statewide nerd fest, and the ordeal would be over. I smiled at my epiphany. The interview went well with the judge, and Mr. Comer awarded me an A for my outstanding effort and “original” presentation. I was proud to have earned my A and be able to return to my life in the liberal arts.
However, when the school newsletter came out, my heart skipped a beat. It read “Sophomore Takes First In Science Fair, Proceeds to State!” This was supposed to be over! Of the 67 science students in the room, the winner was a liberal-arts major. Maybe if I “don’t know” about this, I won’t really have to go, I thought, planning to dart for the door to get to rehearsal on time. I hoped with all my soul that my art would take my mind off this never-ending science assignment. When I turned a corner I ran right into what felt like a giant cottonball. Oh no, I thought, as I looked up at my chemistry teacher. He looked at me with a proud-papa smile.
“I knew I’d find ya here. So didja read it? You’re going to states! I figured I’d bring you the information you’ll need for it, here ya go.” He handed me a yellow envelope that said “Dear Fellow Scientist.” I forced a grin as I took it.
A month later, I lugged my award-winning piece of ribbon-laced cardboard to the college. I set up my presentation like a little pro, then looked at the bustle of great minds around me. I always longed to do something to benefit mankind, but reasoned that art is therapy for the human soul. I could make a lot of money in The Biz, then give it all to charities ... assuming I made a lot of money, of course. The truth was, I knew I wasn’t actually all that great at my chosen area of study. My writing was bland, my acting was corny, my singing was flat, and my dancing - don’t even go there. As I turned each of these thoughts over in my mind, I looked around. These people are naturally good at what they do, I thought. So what am I doing here? Talk about misplaced in the world. I don’t seem to fit anywhere.
Just as the self-imposed rain cloud above my head was about to explode, the first judge appeared. I answered each question without hesitation and nearly over-explained every aspect of my experiment. The more judges I talked with, the more confident I became. My excitement about these beautiful flowers’ longevity increased with each explanation. Before I knew it, the whole process was over and it was time to leave. I drove home proud of my work that day. My life was continually interrupted by my chattering about my newfound knowledge of plants and botany, even though I still didn’t recognize this as a passion. I was so consumed by my thirst for more knowledge that I forgot the science fair was a contest! I ended up earning a second-place medal. That was all I needed: I was off. I became more involved in botanical organizations in my community, and never turned my back on a scientific event again. I’m close to graduation now, and hope to make a positive impact on the environment during my college years, and hopefully beyond.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.