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A Lesson In Life
In school there's always the one perfect student. That kid will know, you'll know, and the teacher will do nothing to hide their preference. They sit in the golden warmth of the teacher's praise, constantly wearing a button that screams out their superiority towards the less desirable students: LOOK AT ME, I'M MUCH BETTER THAN YOU.
I can't deny it. I was that student, and I can't say I didn't enjoy that light. I drank in the praise like a butterfly does nectar, relishing all the praises to my quiet voice and ever present schoolwork.
Yet, even though the quiet student is loved, I couldn't be considered a rarity. If you do the math, there's at least one golden child in every classroom,and mabye around 60 classrooms in a good sized school. 60 students in every school, hundreds of schools all around, too many golden childs to count.
I couldn't count myself as special.
Some people strived to fit into the crowd, searching for every way to bleach out what was unique and become part of a larger crowd. That's fine for them. But with plain brown hair, glasses, and no personality ever displayed to the public, I strived for something indivual in myself that I could grasp and carry around with me as a trophy.
For me it's my skin, my name, my heritage. If I look in the mirror I'll see my brown Latina skin, in school I introduce myself with a name no one else has, at home I'll close my eyes and relish the smell of moro con pollo and listen to the sounds of Aventura on the radio. And I'll absolutely love it.
Of course, that was until I realized that when you stand apart, it only makes it easier for people to find something wrong about you.
At the beginning of the school year, everyone goes through the same tired routine of introducing yourselves to the class. The whole- Hi, my name is blah, I like to blah blah, I'm blah blah blabbity blah charade.
By the time I was in second grade, I'd had already been in three schools and moved twice, a score that would reach to seven schools and three moves by the time I was in sixth grade. I was no stranger to being the new kid.
I had a male teacher that year. We'll call him Mr.Slate, for his dark black eyes, which may be the one feature I remember about him. He had me stand in front of the class, looking at me with his closed half moon eyes. They looked like they were smiling.
“ Go on,” he said.
My stomach was full to the brim with pancakes and golden syrup, and I suddenly regretted how much I ate as I feel it churning in my stomach.
“ My name is Lilibeth,” I whisper.
“ Excuse me?”
I clear my throat. “My name's Lilibeth,” I say louder.
Mr.Slate narrows his smiley eyes. “Lilabelle?”
“Lil-la-beth,” I say. This is pretty routine. Not only is my name kind of hard to pronounce, at least away from my home, but my voice is almost a whisper it's so quiet.
Mr.Slate smiled at me again. I think his eyes were always in those pernament half moons. It calmed me down a bit. Just a bit.
“Okay, Lilbeth,” he said. I never got around to correcting him, so I became Lilbeth for the rest of the year, which I suppose is better than being called Lilabelle. “Do you have a nickname?”
I lit up. My name might be hard, but my nickname's pretty easy. Beba.That is what I'm known as for most of my family. Really, it's not to uncommon a nickname for spanish girls, at least little ones. Not the most used, but a nickname that's said without hesitance and accepted easily when I'm in Dominican Republic or Colombia, my parent's home.
In my head I'm thinking this will make things easier, that I won't have people stumbling over my name the whole year.
“My family calls me Beba, ” I say.
There's a brief moment of silence. Then the room erupts in laughter.
Mr.Slate is covering his mouth with his hand, chuckles escaping now and then.
I blink. This was the first time my name ever got such a reception. Then again, it was also the first time I ever said my nickname aloud.
“Buba ?” he questioned, finally stopping his laughter.
The students didn't though. Laughter still rang loudly, comments joining in too.
“ Your names Buba?”
“ It sounds like a whale's name!”
I stood there as the teacher failed to keep his class in reign, my face flamed red and close to tears. At home, my name was fine. Cute really, fitting for the youngest girl in the family, la bebe. It only took a second in school, but suddenly my name wasn't for a cute little girl. Beba was now “ Bubba” the whale, chubby and ugly and distorted.
And suddenly I felt like a whale, chubby and ugly and distorted.
The rest of the school year went fine, all things considered, as my quiet voice allowed me to blend into the crowd, even as I took up my position as the golden child. I was the smartest, top of the class, the teacher's dream.
I wore the badge, I sat in the warmth, I drank in the praise to my natural smarts.
Yet for all my knowledge, it took me until then to realize what most quiet people know automatically.
There are some things that are better left unsaid.