I came home, excited after a day full of learning, to find my mother waiting for me at the door with some great news: my name had been picked from the lottery to go to the first math meet of the year! Restlessly, I awaited the day.
At last, the time came, and I finally heard the bell ring at the end of the school day. I rushed upstairs to the specified math class and joined the other mathematicians. I checked my bag: calculator, pencils, eraser—all ready to go. We all headed to the parking lot where a Coach bus with shiny, leather seats was waiting to take us to the school we would be competing at. On the bus all I could think about was how nervous I was. Was I going to do well? My feet tapped the seat in front of me at a steady beat, as if counting the seconds, then minutes it took to arrive at our destination.
The doors slowly opened; I grabbed my bag and rushed off toward the large gymnasium, already filled with students sitting at rows and rows of tables. There was an elevated platform at the back of the room on which a lady was distributing cookies and milk to all the participants. I arrived at an empty table and sat down with two other girls from Sidwell Friends School. Then we waited, too nervous to chat, for the first problems to be passed out. A few minutes later, a couple of girls from another school joined us at the table. As soon as they sat down, one of them asked if I had ever been to a math meet before. I replied, “No, this is my first time.” She sneered, and in a derogatory voice replied, ‘Well, the problems are really hard. Trust me, you won’t be able to solve any, especially if this is your first time!”
My heart started racing even more than before because I thought that an “expert” like her must know what she was talking about. My palms began to sweat as the first problems were handed out on a blue sheet of paper. Tik tok, tik tok, the seconds and minutes ticked by as the sound of pencils on paper filled the room. My stomach was churning, but my brain was in action, performing additions, divisions, deciphering logic problems. I began to build up my confidence as I solved problem after problem, but the girl’s words still lingered at the back of my head, like a little spiteful voice trying to throw me off track.
Nonetheless, I quickly realized that I was wrong in allowing her false ideas and prejudices to destabilize me because she knew nothing about me and my capacities. Maybe she was trying to bring me down to erase her own insecurities, but, no matter what her intentions were, I ended up scoring more than her. Thinking back to that episode now, I understand that it wasn’t so much about doing better and proving her wrong, but rather about respecting others’ Inner Light. To me, respecting one’s Inner Light is to embrace everyone’s potential and true self without inhibiting their aspirations and growth. Especially since girls were a minority at the math meet, shouldn’t we have shown stewardship and support toward one another instead of diminishing our excitement? Maybe the girl acted like this because she did not go to a Quaker school, but her comment still got to me.
I now realize that competitors are a community of individuals with the same passion, who, of course, want to do the best they can, but that shouldn’t be a reason to bring others down to feel better about oneself. It is certainly not easy to maintain this integrity, but this is an ongoing challenge that each of us should take on as an incentive toward a more peaceful and compassionate society.