I vividly remember the 11-year-old boy who sat across from me in the last week of elementary school. I despised his entitled voice as he asserted, “I’m smarter because I’m going to AP in middle school next year and you’re not.” This was his response to an argument we were having that day. Sadly, my young self had nothing to retort, for I believed he was right. From then on, I began to belittle myself and doubt my academic abilities. My young self thought the level of my classes invalidates my opinions, and I had carried this idea as I entered middle school the following year. My middle school divided the students of each grade into two categories: standard and advanced placement, also known as AP. AP students took different classes from the students in standard, and they were generally known to be “smarter.” The three years I spent in middle school were the worst moments in my life. Starting in 6th grade, I would compare myself to others constantly. I overworked myself whenever I did projects and studied nonstop without sleep. My mood would fluctuate and my eye bags grew day by day until it was a norm in 8th grade. The praises from my teachers and my A’s meant nothing to me if I was not in AP. Even as 8th grade came to an end, I remained unsatisfied with my abilities and felt small in comparison to my peers in AP classes.
After graduating from middle school, I reflected on those three years and came to realize how much I hated that competitive atmosphere. I never had the time to think about what I really wanted, so I decided then to ponder my desires. I needed something that could alleviate all my doubts - something that could convince me that I’m not worthless and that I am just as capable as my peers. In the middle of my thought process, I feared that my classmate from 5th grade had the correct implications about my abilities, so I chose to take the hardest classes in high school - to prove to him and to myself that I am smart enough - but deep inside my mind, I knew this wouldn’t satisfy me. It was only when I entered high school that things changed. During my first week as a freshman, I encountered classmates that I once knew all scattered into different types of classes. Being in all the hard classes, I expected only my AP peers to be with me, but I was proven wrong. Most notably, my English class was filled with AP and standard students from my middle school. They talked and treated each other as equals. Nobody mentioned middle school anymore. It was as if the level difference from before was irrelevant this whole time. It was then that a revelation came to me. What I wanted was never to just “take the hardest classes in high school” but rather, a sense of self-validation of my worth. The level in which I was placed never mattered in the first place because my peers from standard are now in classes with AP students. Seeing how everyone shared similar classes, how could one be superior? How could the level of classes invalidate someone’s opinions? Classes don’t and cannot invalidate someone’s worth. It was me with the toxic mindset that caused my misery in middle school, but I am the one who is now choosing to grow out of that harmful point in my life. As I recall the conversation that I had with that young boy in elementary school - who had long forgotten his remark - I can now confidently look back at the child with a languid smile and say, “You’re wrong.”
© Amy Lu. All rights reserved. If you are interested in quoting this story, contact the national team through this website and we can put you in touch with the young person's teacher.