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If I hadn’t gone down that hallway, it never would have happened. That’s what I kept telling myself as I sat on the bus. She wouldn’t have found out this way and wouldn’t be angry.
Several hours earlier, I was walking down the sixth grade hallway with a note in my hand. I don’t recall exactly what it was for, but I know that I was on my way to give it to the front office before school started. Amy, who had been my best friend since preschool, was walking next to me as we talked about things I can’t remember now. It was a conversation between sixth graders, an insignificant thing in this tale.
We turned right down the seventh grade hallway, painted a revolting shade of mustard yellow. It was rare for me to go down that hallway, because the eighth grade hallways were located near my classes and locker. But, regardless of the navigational implications, we went down the seventh grade hall instead.
And so I saw Cassandra, a seventh grade friend of mine from dance. She rushed up, and asked, “Is it true you’re going to skip a grade?”
I froze. “How did you find out?” I spluttered, suddenly quite aware of the people walking around us in the hall.
“My mom’s a substitute, and she found out and told me. I don’t know how she knew. But that’s going to be soooo cool!” she squealed, clearly not seeing my face fall.
“I don’t know if it’s going to happen yet, but probably. I’ve gotta go.” I walked off with Amy trailing behind me. I wasn’t quite lucky enough to lose her in the crowd, though.
“What was she talking about? Are you really going to skip a grade?!” she demanded, obviously less thrilled than Cassandra.
“Yeah. Probably. I’ve already taken the English midterm and final. I’m taking Science and Social Studies over the summer. They’re giving me books to study.”
“Are you serious?”
Silence. She knew that I was rarely anything but serious. The rest of the day, she gave me imploring looks and begged me to reconsider. My assigned seat beside her in the back of room in science was torture. I actually tried to concentrate on the class for once. It was something about moraines, and completely uninteresting.
And so it was. The silence grew between us. My mom was furious that people had found out, when the subject was supposed to be kept between the teachers. I had to stop her from sending one of her patented “angry letters.” But inside, I was ecstatic. I wanted to leave my stupid class behind for the most part. Sixth grade had been a nightmare. The people were cruel, and I had very few friends. I liked the structure of marching in lines in Elementary School. There was no order in the boisterous, crumbling Middle School. I lost weight.
As the year drew to a close, I received the books and syllabi of seventh grade teachers. During the month of June, I spent my time reading and trying to inhale as much information as possible. I came to the Middle School, now serene without the other kids, and took the midterms and finals of the other subjects. I didn’t skip math, because I had been in the advanced math in sixth grade. I caught back up last year, when I took two math classes, another source of people telling me I’m crazy. Of course I’m crazy.
The first time I ever told a group of people was at a birthday party in the summer. We were all sitting at a picnic bench near the public pool, and the other girls were discussing being seventh graders. When they asked if I was afraid, I said, “A little. Because I’m going to eighth grade next year.” On came the torrential downpour of questions. Why. How. Aren’t you going to miss us.
The first day of school the following fall I walked in, ready to hurl. But I decided that would make a terrible first impression. I focused on the classes and talked when I saw someone I knew, which was rare, or when someone asked me a question. And there were plenty of those. Why. How. Do you miss your friends.
But I was happy. Months passed quickly, and my fear of not being able to keep up with the rigor and pace of the eighth grade classes was quickly shown to be unfounded. People disliked me, picked on me, said things about me after never even having spoken to me. But I was still happier than before. Unexplainably, I fit into the class, and gained even more friends. None of it was without struggle, though. Guys avoided me, or laughed at me. Girls smiled sourly, but I heard what they said about “the seventh grader.” It all came back to me in the end. Someone was bold enough to try to verify the rumor that I’d gotten all over 100%s on my grade card the year before. I laughed, wondering who came up with that. That year, I learned to keep my grades to myself.
But at least I was a person. The year before, I had been invisible. In eighth grade, I found teachers I liked, rose to challenges like never before, and ultimately ended up being quite satisfied. I saw Amy every day at soccer, though I’d made the A team, and she was on the B team. We chatted, but it was just the slightest bit stiff.
The next year, I moved on to the high school, officially putting a barrier between my old class and my new one. The quarter of a mile walk from the two schools appeared enormous as I became a Freshman. Now my old class boasts the preppy Freshman. I’m a Sophomore, no longer plankton in the engineering of high school status.
People, mostly my friends, still call me “Freshman.” I still get the harder part of group projects because I “skipped a grade.” I’ve been called so many names. I quit high school soccer after my season as a freshman because one coach repeatedly mocked me, saying things like, “Oh Sandy,” (my nickname), “you think you’re better than all of us? You think you’re smarter. Oh, so smart that you didn’t put your name on your jacket.” My jacket had been stolen while I was actually playing in a game, by a bully of a girl who enjoyed trying to knock my books over while I carried them in the hallway, and punching me in the face, and bending my glasses, at soccer camp. She ended up quitting.
I’ve been laughed at. Countless times. Teachers have found out and judged me differently. But I’m better for leaving. I’ve learned that humility is an essential skill when people are predisposed to be jealous of you. I’ve found that although you can’t run from your problems, sometimes the solution is in leaving.
People still talk. Just yesterday, I had a girl announce that I’d skipped a grade to my fellow jumpers at track. I smile and nod, and hope they don’t judge me. The Steven Q. Ukels of the world aren’t always like that, and I hope that I can show this to everyone who reads Millicent Min and calls me a genius. People have asked me if I’m smart, and I still have no answer for them. I may do well in my classes and think about things differently sometimes, but I don’t believe that you can measure one person’s brain against another’s. My friend always has people tell her she’s stupid, and I feel awful if I ever incite this sentiment in her when we get our English grades back. But I want her, and everyone else to know that I’m not here to make them feel worse about themselves. High School can do that all on its own.
It’ll be three years since I started taking those midterms and finals, though I’ve been taking odd named tests for a long time now. I’m in all Honors classes, but I don’t really talk to the conceited people that often are in the same courses. I still speak with Amy, and email one other Freshman, but I have wonderful Sophomore friends like you wouldn’t believe. I rarely think about my age any more, or my place in this grade, but I needed to get this story out. For all those who are striving to meet the almost unreachable expectations of high level colleges and trying to coordinate studying and sports and friends, I understand, and I want you to know that you’re not alone, as I’ve felt many times. For all those who are feeling stupid and insignificant, know that I’m just as insecure about my mental capacity as you are, maybe more. We all feel plain and dumb sometimes, but know that your mind is greater if you take the time to fill it, and believe that you are smart.
Look at me. Talk to me. Listen to me. You’ll never know what I’ve gone through to get here, which lies in more than a few tests. And I won’t be the one to tell you. Everyone’s got their secrets, and I’m no different, so look me in the eye, talk to me, and judge as you so choose. You won’t see a suspender and glasses wearing nerd. You might hear a few words you don’t understand once in a blue moon, but you hopefully won’t doubt yourself. You won’t discover a girl that can do freakishly difficult math problems mentally on cue. You’ll simply find a person.