The proportion personal propensity has on one’s success in life is the most surprising thing I have learned this semester. Through service, literature and my own self-discovery, I have come to realize that although circumstance and connections do play a large role in one’s outcome, it is a person’s inner drive that is the true deciding factor in achievement.
This semester I was granted the privilege of watching the Guilford Elementary Middle School children grow as students, young-adults and citizens. Their minds filled with facts I was able to not only witness the preservation of this knowledge, but the true understanding that is achieved through excellent education. These students, over the course of only 3 months, have matured from hyper adolescents to poised peers willing to assist their teacher and fellow students, even after their designated school day has commenced. Most of all, I have watched as these students, who were dealt a poor hand, not only escape the stereotypes associated with inner city schools, but go above and beyond completing a so-far undefeated National Academic League season. These students have thus out performed many charter schools in their league, proving that it is not where one grew up that counts but instead how hard one will work to achieve their goals.
Before Thanksgiving break, the Guilford students competed against Hamden Elementary Middle School, the first away tournament I attended. The students at Hamden were predominantly white from what appeared to be blue-collar families, the norm for a Hamden family. The Guilford students were given their toughest fight at Hamden Elementary Middle but came through in the presentation round with a jaw-dropping performance that, whether the students recognized it or not, was wise beyond their years. The presentation quarter of a National Academic League competition is conducted as follows: both teams are given a hypothetical situation, a side to argue, and a box of resources, which will assist in the research process. After about an hour, the students present their arguments to a panel, which scores them on the content and delivery of the presentation. At the Hamden competition the topic was over-spending on American pets through the use of clothing, spas, manicures and cosmetic surgeries. The Guilford team chose to present second, a strategic move in terms of motivating ones’ team to really out perform the previous presentation. However, Guilford’s argument was not one of economics nor priority as one would assume; instead the 6th, 7th and 8th grade Guilford students presented a legal case based on the principle that the average dog in Baltimore has a better quality of living than the average black man. They supported their case further with the results of recent court cases in which Michael Vick, the football player turned dog murder, was sentenced to a longer prison term than a local off duty cop convicted of murdering a black man. The topic made the air stand still as I once again realized that the situations and experiences I have undergone vary vastly from that of these students, who in the 21st century, are still faced with the reality that their fathers, brothers, uncles and even themselves, are arguably given less equality than a pet. This third quarter round in the Hamden Elementary Middle School cafeteria presented a truism I will remember for the rest of my life.
This situation could have been greatly uncomfortable for me (a white girl from a tiny middle class town) however, in the spirit of breaking this injustice presented by my young scholars, I instead used this opportunity to see the similarities. I personally was never at the top of my class as a child; math tutoring, reading lab, retaking science tests and hundreds of spelling flashcards were all necessary and instrumental parts of my childhood, as my friends played and I was forced to study in order to achieve the grades that came so naturally to them. I recognize my counter part in the Guilford students, as although they are extremely intellectually gifted, they also have to fight to achieve greatness. As reiterated in Twelfth Night, "some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them." Although many may view the idea of greatness as something innate, I conclude that this is not true; the most surprising thing I learned this semester was how important personal drive is to success. If anyone disagrees, I challenge them to meet a Guildford student- for it is at this school just down the street on York Road, that even the most considerable obstacles are overcome to achieve greatness.