I Completed A.P. and That has Made All the Difference

November 29, 2008
By Annie Legrand, Metairie, LA

I remember the days before this class… the days of sweaty palms, no participation, and assuming Hamlet was only a tale of a son’s revenge. What do nervous habits and classic literature have in common? For me, my fears and analyzing pieces of “literary merit” -- though I often questioned the significance of pieces written by ancient, dead men -- collided in my English IV Advanced Placement class. Though I did learn more than I wanted to know about the past eras of literature, I received a lesson so valuable in this grueling class that there is never a day where I do not acknowledge my gratitude for persevering through such a rigorous course.

Recalling the first day of classes, when I first met the ever so intimidating Mrs. Gayé, who frightened my class by barking out our course of action for the next year, I left the room thinking this is not a college prep class, it is a death wish. After that first day, I was a regular in my counselor’s office, trying to convince him that I was not good enough for an A.P. class. Soon enough, Mrs. Gayé assigned the first project of the year: prepare a prompt for a class discussion on Pride and Prejudice. The fact that I viewed Austen’s work simply as a timeless romance did not assist my goals of success for this project, especially since I wondered how I could prepare a class conversation, when I did not even participate in the first place. Let me just say, I presented the perfect example of an epic fail to my peers.

That is it, I thought, my ideas are stupid and superficial; I cannot compete with my insightful peers in such a demanding class. I fiercely exclaimed that I was dropping A.P. English. However, that night was Back to School Night, where my mom asked Mrs. Gayé if I really did not seem capable of handling the course, to which she blatantly responded, “If Annie wants the easy A, she can leave the class.” I could not believe Mrs. Gayé would actually say such a thing. I was infuriated, and that was when my competitive spirit got the best of me: the thought of dropping the class was no longer an option; if anything, it was that brutal remark that challenged me to stay in the class.

Though I remained in the class, for the first half of the semester, no one would have noticed me. My participation was close to none, but according to me, for good reasons -- who would want to listen to what I think anyway? No one. My essays? Terrible. My ideas? Juvenile. I could just hear the thoughts of my peers: What is she thinking? Does she honestly believe she has a chance of surviving in this class? Oh, bless her heart, she is brainless. Besides having no rational thoughts, I lacked self-confidence, which would explain the sweaty palms, the cracked voice, and the nervous laugh, as I read my essays aloud to the class.

For a long time, I boasted about being the underachiever in a class full of overachievers. I would put aside my homework until the night before it was due -- an essay completed a week in advance was unheard of on my to-do list. I skimmed through the class, using the minimal requirements as my benchmarks, never pushing myself to try harder. Yet, as essays were returned, I noticed an increase in my scores; maybe, I actually was learning something valuable. I began to work for my grades, no matter how exhausting or time-consuming I was going to succeed in this class. As time passed, I slowly began to realize that I really did have some interesting perspectives on literature; maybe, I pondered, it would be worthwhile to share my ideas.

Gradually, my confidence grew and my self-doubt vanished. I found myself raising my hand and debating with my classmates. My class was no longer a group of geniuses and myself, but a faction of analytical intellectuals who respected and enjoyed each other’s commentaries. I loved the class and basked in my newfound pride. Nevertheless, my pinnacle of success was still to come. On a day just like any other, Mrs. Gayé returned our Hamlet essays, but when I reached for my paper, I realized that I was holding two copies of my paper: the one I wrote, and then yes, it had to be -- my paper was chosen for the example. Hence, I was awarded my first nine on an A.P. essay. Wow! A nine? And, my paper was the perfect example for the class? I could not believe my success, but it showed from ear to ear that I had finally received the grade I consistently struggled to attain.

As May drew closer, the big test just days away, Mrs. Gayé met with each student for a one-on-one session after school. During my time alone with her, Mrs. Gayé stated, “You used to be the quiet girl I would forget, and then somehow, out of nowhere, you appeared in my class.” Giggles escaped from students making-up quizzes in her class, and I laughed too; however, I understood what she meant and agreed with her notion. My transformation was noticeable to everyone and in every aspect of my life. I no longer doubted my thoughts, but shared them, no matter the outcome. Participation points were no longer my enemy, and I enjoyed expressing my opinions without wondering what others thought of them.

I do not measure my success in the class by what I received on the A.P. test, but by how much I grew as a person. Mrs. Gayé and my peers helped me recognize and achieve the potential I have as both a writer and an outspoken person. Though the analytical skills and writing techniques were great assets I acquired from the class, it was the development of my confidence and the end of my self-doubt that I will consider invaluable for the rest of my life.

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