College Is Just Part Of My Redemption Arc

Photo by Kleigh Balugo

By Alexandra Pelas

The jobs I want don’t require a degree, but I’m still here, majoring in political science and buying used LSAT prep books.

A part of me always wants to be the smartest person in the room, I never am, and I resent that. My need to feel intelligent stems from my childhood. In middle and elementary school, I was never in the running to be in the GATE (Gifted and Talented Education) program, I never made it into honors classes, and I learned to read at a much slower rate than my peers. I was belittled constantly for my apparent idiocy. So I never did my assignments and I never cared about my grades because everyone told me I was the dumb kid, so why try to be someone else?

But then in highschool I had everything to prove. It was a new school with new people. I racked up the honors and AP classes, I was president of the debate team my senior year. But it wasn’t enough, my lazy tendencies kept me from being considered a ‘smart’ kid. It was hard for me to do my work because in years prior I had never gotten used to doing it. My laziness reflected on my GPA and class standing. On a few occasions, people would seem genuinely shocked if I scored well or better than them on an AP exam or a standardized test, and this embarrassed me. I often felt like I very noticeably didn’t fit in. So I made excuses that would allow me to perform poorly. I didn’t go to class and I didn’t study. I decided it was better to fail without trying. The idea of trying and then doing badly terrified me, it would mean that I truly was a dumb kid. So I tried to make myself the laughingstock of AP students. I would loudly laugh about my low grades and poor attendance. I would risk getting in trouble just to make a joke.

Fast forward to now, I have an associates degree with honors. I tell everyone that Law School is my next move after I finish my BA. I speak up in class and I put myself through college. I’ve rebranded myself into someone who is hardworking and most importantly, smart. Almost nothing is more important to me than maintaining this status. But what is the point of being smart or hardworking if I’m working towards something I don’t want? Not that I hate the idea of being a lawyer. I actually love the idea of being an immigration attorney and helping people similar to my family. But I just don’t think it’s what I was meant to be.

My dream job is to be a tattoo artist, or maybe even a music producer. I wish I practiced drawing and art as much as I used to. It’s something I love and something I wish I could pursue. But academia gave me what art couldn’t. It gave me the illusion of being smart, college redeemed me from the shortcomings of my youth. Because what would people think if I ditched my plans for higher education to go for a career in art? That I wasn’t smart enough to make it into law school? That I couldn’t work hard enough? I’ve never believed that the amount of education someone has or that their GPA score is indicative of their intelligence. But society has made me tie these things to my own self worth.

In all likelihood, no one probably ever thought I was truly dumb after middle school. Bad at math, definitely. But stupid? Unlikely. But I care so much about being perceived as smart that I will eventually spend thousands of dollars on law school, just so that I can finally be the ‘smart’ kid. I have everything to prove to everyone else, the things I want will just have to wait until the next life.

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