I am a human before I am a student

I+am+a+human+before+I+am+a+student

I’ve been alive for 6,559 days.

I’ve been a student for 4,564 of those days. 

Thus, forgive me for combining the two notions. Forgive me for blurring the lines between “student” and “human” and for struggling to build an understanding of my worth beyond the 69.58% of my life that I’ve grown to be a part of this skewed educational system.

Day 2,627. 4:30 a.m. Before she left to work, my mom carried me out of her car—a dusty, black Dodge that always attempted to smell like the Royal Pine air freshener that hung from the rearview mirror but only ever suffocated my airway with the scent of cheap leather and the sweat of the lower-middle class. 

As I pretended to sleep in her arms, she whispered to my babysitter who walked me to the bus stop every morning when my mom couldn’t.

“She’s lucky. It’s a privilege to learn, to have a good school nearby.” 

I thought about the gift I apparently had. I tried to reach for it, to hang on to it tightly, to grasp the intangible thought tighter than the Royal Pine air freshener was tied to the crooked, cracked car mirror. 

I had a gift. I felt lucky. I was lucky, for the time being. 

Day 6,129. It was another day, one that became lost in the many high school days that bled into one another similar to the way ink spreads when it’s doused with water—the words quickly becoming illegible and blackened. 

My teacher showed up each morning, attempting to brighten our days with her smile to compensate for the sun that hadn’t risen yet. The colorful posters and clothed walls surrounded me as I tore out each dull notebook page filled with penciled-in notes. I was handed knowledge and new information and ideas, even though sometimes it felt more suffocating than my mom’s old car ever did. 

Yet, it was my gift. So, I clung to my scribbled notes. I grappled with each word that shot out into the air in front of me. I poured my effort into my work. 

At the same time, I was told I wasn’t using my gift wisely. I picked up my books, comforted my restless eyes, and stopped my shaking hands as I took each verbal punch that disregarded my effort, that told me I wasn’t trying enough.

Day 3,277. I pleasantly sighed as I hid under the cozy, cotton blanket that covered my nine-year-old body. My mind happily jumped into the wonderful world created by Mary Pope Osborne. My eager hands almost ripped the pages of whatever book I was reading within the Magic Tree House series as my imagination moved quicker than my fingers when I turned each page.

As I quickly turned over the last page, I added another star sticker under my name on the wall, indicating I finished another book. Each shining, superficial star never failed to make me smile, never failed to sprinkle little bits of pride into me, permanently sticking to my self-reflection even as I grew older.

I thought maybe with enough stars, I could eventually have enough to make my own sky. 

I thought maybe I could receive stars for other accomplishments, too. A star for how high I swung on the swings earlier that morning. A star for when I held the door open until my arms hurt.

But supposably that wasn’t allowed.

Day 5,413. I released a heavy sigh as I tried to not let any tears escape. I pulled my planner out from beneath the several folders and binders within my weathered backpack. 

As I opened to the day’s date, my mind reluctantly jumped into the list of homework that extended beyond the given lines on that section of the page. I became unhealthily enveloped within my responsibilities as they became a part of me I could never seem to tear off.  

That night, each time I’d cross off another goal I’d accomplished, I had simultaneously crossed out another hour I should’ve had my head against my pillow.

I confused success as only existing in one form. I wish I believed success isn’t defined like the angles of an isosceles triangle or a verb in a sentence—it isn’t one size, one color, or one shape. Each star, each good grade, each completed homework assignment defined success only in terms of my ability to conform to an institutionnot the entirety of my success.

I wish I believed sooner that I could find success beyond my life as a student. Success for the small yet significant parts of existing—success for getting out of bed each morning, for building the joy of those around me, and for finding peace among a life that never seemed to cease moving.

But I struggled to do so.

I was often told “take care of yourself” in the same breath I was asked “why aren’t you trying harder?””

Day 4,547. I realized as I was growing older, my eagerness dulled. I wanted to pick up my love for learning and enthusiasm for knowledge from the ground and dust it off like an aged, rusty bike that was abandoned in the rain for too long. 

But I struggled to do so when I was often told “take care of yourself” in the same breath I was asked “why aren’t you trying harder?”

Day 6,559. I sit and try to write why school is valuable because it grants children knowledge and eliminates ignorance. I try to write why school can open opportunities and new worlds. I try to write that it also isn’t everything. 

School is a gift, but the notions around its importance often mishandle its power and morphs it into a weapon, at least it has for me. 

For the 4,564 days that I’ve been a student, I’ve allowed the information school has bestowed upon me to help me grow. But as I blurred the lines between “human” and “student,” placing the importance of my success in school before my success and ability to function as a person, I’ve lost sight of my growth. 

Rather, I’ve lost sight of what growth should be—growth as a human with a focus on molding and strengthening my self-worth, values, and health. 

Thus, I hope this account of how the educational system sews incomplete notions of success into children at an early age illustrates the destructiveness of it.

Because even after 6,559 days, I still sometimes forget that I am a human before I am a student.