Today is the final day of my Christmas vacation, and tomorrow is when everything goes back to normal. I wake up early, I go to school, I sit through lectures, then go back home. As I lay in bed, purposely ignoring the academic requirements I should really be getting to, I began to ponder about my education so far.
I have never considered myself good with numbers – because I’m not. I was okay with math in elementary. By okay, I meant I passed. In high school, I failed a few exams in my first two years but later redeemed myself with high grades in the last two years. But those high grades weren’t a result of my intelligence or practice or advance reading. In junior year, I got extra incentives in geometry because my friends and I were close to our teacher. In senior year, I got decent scores in the first few trigonometry exams. But in our final exam, my friends and I cheated by passing around the scratch paper we wrote our equations and solutions on.
Simply put, I genuinely sucked at math.
Fast-forward to my college life. In 2012, I officially became a proud student of the health sciences center of the premier state university of our country. While some of its degree programs belonged to the liberal arts and social sciences, majority of what it offered were still health-related. As a result, it was recognized for having more difficult math and science subjects.
Unfortunately for me, I was required to take 2 math subjects within my freshman year. In the first semester, I took and passed Math 1 which had something to do with logic and truth tables. But in the second semester, I had to take Math 11: College Algebra. When my parents and friends asked me how I felt about it, I would just tell them I was nervous. The truth was that I was scared.
Dozens of students regularly fail Math 11 every semester. Some of them wait until summer to retake it. Some of them cross-register to another campus and take it there. Over the years, it had caused many students to become depressed and insecure, or worse, have their graduation delayed.
After five months of hard work, determination, and perseverance, I failed. It was my first time failing a subject in college. I felt bad, even though I wasn’t the only one who failed. I only told my parents about it through text because I didn’t want to tell them in person. They were supportive, and told me to do better next time.
I smiled. I laughed it off. But deep inside, I wanted to quit. I wanted to leave this prestigious university and transfer somewhere where I wouldn’t fail anymore. I considered taking the easy way out.
But I’m still here now. Who or what made me stay? The very professor who gave me that failing grade. He was a great teacher, by anybody’s standards. But I consider him to be an even better motivator.
He talked about how he himself failed several times in college. How he didn’t graduate with latin honors. How he only got average grades. Then he asked us, non-verbatim, “Does knowing how I was before decrease the respect you have for me now?” The whole class answered no.
He asserted that grades don’t matter in the long run. That whatever number or letter you get as a measure of your performance in a single class won’t determine your performance for the rest of your life. That learning and understanding the reasoning behind solutions is more important than memorizing and copying the solutions themselves. He told us that it’s not failures that define a person, but how s/he learns from them and moves on. And he told us that if we must die, we better die fighting.
There’s a lot of wisdom he shared with us, but one quote ties them all together: rise over run.
In math, rise over run is the ratio of the vertical change (rise) to the horizontal change (run) between two distinct points on a line. But as my professor said, rise over run can be defined differently. For him, it meant that instead of running away from challenges that we think are too hard or impossible to overcome, we should always rise to the challenge.
And that’s what I did. In the summer before my sophomore year, I took Math 11 for the second time. And I passed. I didn’t get a super high grade, but that didn’t matter to me anymore.
I’ve only failed once so far, and I don’t know how many more failures are in store for me. What I do know is that I’ll always live by those words. Rise over run.
This post was inspired by a prompt from the 365 Writing Prompts: Tell us about a teacher who had a real impact on your life, either for the better or the worse. How is your life different today because of him or her?