Sitting on my bed, I took a deep breath in and open the first envelope.
"It's okay," I said to myself. I calmly open the next one. Rejected. With no composure left, I frantically grab the last envelope, ferociously ripping it to reveal another rejection. I discard the mangled letters in the trash can, along with my confidence, and slowly rock myself to sleep.
Throughout elementary and middle school, rejection was an unknown concept to me; I was accepted to my elementary school's gifted programs, as well as the International Baccalaureate program in middle school. Growing up in an academically oriented community, expectations were high, but my sister and friends had no trouble reaching higher. Therefore, after facing rejection from not only the Governor's School, but also from my county's STEM and Leadership centers, I labeled myself a disgrace. So with disappointment, I started my high school journey as an IB student attending J. R. T***** High School, which I had unfairly deemed my "safety-school." Not only did I have a solely academically focused attitude that rendered my life lackluster and binary, I also was blissfully unaware of the true hardships of reality. Coming from a privileged suburban neighborhood, I was blessed, but ignorant, which caused the development of a contemptuous attitude based on prejudice views of the run-down nature of the school.
However, in my sophomore year, Mrs. L**, an amazing math teacher, asked if I could help tutor a struggling geometry student named Hemanta. Perfunctorily, I complied. However, unbeknownst to me, what began as a small favor for her would ultimately become a spark for a euphoric shift in my character.
On the first day of tutoring, I was faced with a daunting obstacle: a language barrier. As the session continued, both Hemanta and I struggled to properly convey our messages, and after multiple attempts, we tiredly retired our books, feeling unaccomplished. Defeated, I expressed my concerns to Mrs. Lee, who revealed to me that Hemanta moved to Virginia seeking refuge from violent hardships in Mongolia, her home country. My sheltered mindset had never confronted or even comprehended challenges comparable to Hemanta's whose story challenged my views. Shocked, I continued my tutoring sessions with Hemanta, realizing that, unlike me, Hemanta was not striving for academic perfection, but rather a high school diploma to aid her entry into the workforce. While I taught Hemanta geometry, and ultimately, help her pass her SOL, she ignited the broadening of my perspective and pushed me beyond academic success. I began to recognize other students, who like Hemanta, lived a lifestyle that differed heavily from mine. While some students worked long hours after school, others were caretakers of their parents. Though gradually, I awakened to not only the diversity present at T*****, but also the ambience of acceptance in the atmosphere, and by the end of sophomore year, I began volunteering at my local hospital and nursing home.
Now, I step outside of a hardly air conditioned classroom, appreciating the pouring rain leaking from the oddly constructed V-shaped roofs covering our school, and the boisterous window ACs' leaking miscellaneous fluid that only contribute to the inundation of the hallways. And, despite the frizzing of my hair, I admire a group of Mexican transfer students strategically making their way to class in order to avoid the rain while fluently speaking Spanish. At the end of the year, I will always enjoy the sweet smell of Korean pancakes that Mrs. L** makes for her students (I always manage to steal an extra one). Amidst the comforting chaos of the heterogeneous mixture of people, I have come to realize that T***** is many things, but one thing it is not, is ordinary.
While some students aspire for academic excellence, others raise siblings and support their families. The distinct lifestyles of not only students, but also the teachers, create a community unlike any other that provoked an irreversible epiphany in my character. I owe the kindling of my new mindset to T*****. This is a debt unique in its magnitude, but also a debt unique in its lack of burden. It is a debt unique in that its repayment is forward progress and gratefulness. As such, in spite of the school's physical appearance, my fondest memories will always be of leaky roofs and raucous ACs.