I was the average kid in high school, grade-wise. Not a lot of A’s and definitely didn’t fail almost all of my subjects for my examinations. I try to be as friendly as possible to my classmates and majority of the teachers at my school, I keep good relationships with.
Not all corners of a diamond gleam under the moonlight, though.
Me and mathematics make a funny relationship. I’ve never had an A for my mathematics throughout my high school years. Due to this, it build an ugly, filthy sense of doubt for myself. I was fifteen, mid-year examinations had just ended and I was chilling at my mom’s place in the teacher’s office when she called me down to the meeting room. Not knowing what I was getting myself into, I complied.
A friend of my mom was giving a ‘motivational’ talk to her students. As soon as I step into the room and I saw his face, I knew something was going to happen. What I didn’t knew was if it would be good or bad. The talk soon ended and all the students either went home or were loitering in the hallway, waiting for their friends. I was introduced to my mom’s friend and it was alright at first.Then my mom was called to somewhere. I couldn’t remember for what reason, but possibly it was because a parent wanted to see her. So I told myself internally, “Okay, I can do this! It’s just a guy, nothing would happen!”.
Our conversation flowed smoothly until he asked me, “How are you preparing yourself for PT3?”.
I was nervous, that much was obvious. So I told him what was necessary; doing daily mathematics questions, kept up with my Bahasa Melayu essays and such. If I remember correctly, he then asked me, “What was your grade for mathematics?”
And with a shameful smile, I told him I got a D for mathematics. My heart was pounding! But, for what reason?
He smirked. In a way where I knew he was looking down on me. Then, he asked me what I wanted to be. Now, before I get to the story, I would like to tell you how infatuated I was with astrophysics. The physics behind the stars, planets, galaxies! And to be given the chance to see the Hubble Space Telescope alone was the dream the fifteen year old me would kill to have. So I told him exactly just that!
My face fell. He laughed at me. Hell, he guffawed at me. If tears could fall right then and there, I might’ve cried seven Nile rivers. But I was too stunned by his actions to even think about crying.
“Look, don’t take this personal, but I don’t think you’re even qualified to be in the science stream next year! Just look, you got a D for mathematics! Do you even know what astrophysicists do anyway?”
Oblivious to his whole point, I nodded. But the look he gave afterwards gave me a feeling that he didn’t believe me. Not in the slightest. My mom popped her head in and told me I can keep my bags and hers in the car and wait for her there. They talked for quite a while and I was in the car pondering over his words.
Did he just look down on me?
Aren’t astrophysicists supposed to study about the stars, planets and galaxies?
Why did he laugh at me?
Am I taking this too personal like he said I shouldn’t?
I didn’t notice my mom entering the car when she literally yelled out my name. Asked me what happened and if everything was okay. Was it? Was being laughed at normal? Should it even be normalized?
I told her everything. A to Z. Zero to infinity. Words flew from my mouth like I was rapping to Eminem, for heaven’s sake! By the end of it, you guessed it, I cried. Streams upon streams of tears down my cheeks, eyes a bloodshot red and I came to realization that I didn’t even breathe properly.
From then on, I thought I was okay but what I failed to realize, however, was my grades dropping even lower than before. Come on, my grades were already on the ‘passable’ zone and now you’re telling me I failed my mathematics for my trials? I was stressed, that was for sure but I managed to pull myself together -not too much, just enough for me to make it through my PT3 examination. I didn’t fail mathematics but I didn’t score well for it either.
Nonetheless, I got into the science stream where high school students would kill to enter (definitely not my words!). I was given a chance, a chance to redeem myself! On the first day of school, we had mathematics as our first class. Our mathematics teacher walked in. She carries a stern look on her wherever she goes but to catch her smile – which comes and goes by within nanoseconds!- was a sign that your day will go absolutely well. Like always, I was nervous.
“Will she judge me like all my teachers before?”
“Will she notice that I have no chance in getting an A for mathematics?”
“Will she mock me for not scoring in mathematics?”
As I am currently writing this down, eighteen year old me is glad to answer these questions with a short yet strong answer: “NO!”
Turned out that my mathematics teacher helped in every way she could. Sure, her stern face gives me shivers sometimes but that didn’t mean she was a meanie! In fact, she’s the exact opposite! She has never mocked me for failing my midterms in form 4, she has never replied rudely to all my weird questions and most importantly, she has never doubted me. My SPM was held in February 2021 and we were given a two weeks break prior to this. Something memorable happened before the break which I would never trade for all the money and diamonds in this world.
Of course, it was during our mathematics class. We were sketching graphs as our work and as soon as I finished, I did the unthinkable. I stood up and walked over to my mathematics teacher.
“Excuse me teacher, did I do my graph correctly?”
I gave her my graph paper and flinched when she took the aforementioned paper from me. Seriously, why did I even flinch? Could it be:
“As usual, Ilya, your graph needs to get better.”
“Your graph looks like a river. Go fix it!”
“Is this the best you can do? Your cubic equation isn’t corre-“
But her comment was none of the above…
“You did well, Ilya. You’ve improved so much. This is your best graph yet.”
She wasn’t a woman of many words and to hear those three sentences flowing from her mouth surprised me. I smiled, said “Thank you so much!” and went back to my seat. The smile never left my face for the rest of the day.
I finished my final paper for SPM on the 10th of March. By then, I have around three months to decide what I wanted to do in college. Foundation, Matriculation, Diploma?
FYI, I was fourteen when I started writing. Fiction, mainly. Horror and angst were my favorite genres to write. When the man told me I couldn’t make it into STEM, let alone science stream, I thought “Why not take up English?”. I mean, I’m fluent in English, I know a lot of countries that need English teachers, I could go global with this language! So, me and my parents, we would gather up to discuss about the possibilities of me majoring in English courses in local universities and we would come up with ways to help me go overseas. I thought I was happy with this decision but I knew a small part of me longed to take Chemistry in college. During those three months, I applied for everything English related alongside matriculation – just for the sake of it.
My result for SPM wasn’t the highest nor the lowest. Hey, I told you, I was an average kid. 4A’s to me was sufficient enough for the English course I thought of majoring in. But the 4A’s didn’t matter to me. What mattered to me was the fact that I got an A (a solid A!) for my mathematics! For once, I had no doubt in myself and I feel like I could conquer the world!
Then something surprising happened in the early month of July. Matriculation accepted me for their two year program in Science! I was astounded by this news. Why would they want me? Surely there must be other students they can choose that will fit perfectly into their program.
Nonetheless, my dad told me to take up the offer. I was scared, honestly but with his words in mind, “I believe you can do this” , I sent a prayer to God and clicked accept.
Now, as I’m writing this on the 11th of August 2021, three weeks into the matriculation program, I know I’m happy as I’ll ever be. Sure, I may not have a degree, a masters or even a PhD yet but I know I’m on my way there.
I’ve always wanted more women representation in STEM and now I have a new goal to reach: to inspire young girls all around the world and get them to be more interested in STEM.
And most importantly, to never doubt themselves.
Written by: Yaya
P/S: For the record, Yaya received an offer from UiTM too, which is Diploma in English for Professional Communication. She used to be thinking a lot on taking this course, was adamant that this was the path that she wanted to take. But she was lying to herself actually; what she truly wants to do is to further her studies in Chemistry. She wants to be like Rachel Carson (https://www.rachelcarson.org/). .