Entering my freshman year at Georgetown University, I should have felt as if I’d made it. The students I once put on a pedestal, kids who were fortunate enough to attend some of the nation’s top private and public schools, were now my classmates. Having come from D.C. public charter schools, I worked extremely hard to get here.
But after arriving on campus before the school year, with a full scholarship, I quickly felt unprepared and outmatched — and it’s taken an entire year of playing catch-up in the classroom to feel like I belong. I know that ultimately I’m responsible for my education, but I can’t help blaming the schools and teachers I had in my early years for my struggles today.
Even though I attended some of the District’s better schools — including my high school, the Cesar Chavez Public Charter School for Public Policy, at the Parkside campus near Kenilworth — the gap between what I can do and what my college classmates are capable of is enormous. This goes beyond knowing calculus or world history, subjects that I didn’t learn in high school but that my peers here mastered long ago. My former teachers simply did not push me to think past a basic level, to apply concepts, to move beyond memorizing facts and figures.
Since the third grade, my teachers told me I was exceptional, but they never pushed me to think for myself. And when I did excel, they didn’t trust that I’d done the hard work. They assumed I was cheating. Now, only 10 milesfrom those teachers and schools where I was considered a standout, I’ve had to work double-time just to keep up.
I first noticed the gap between me and my classmates after my first writing assignment at Georgetown. In an English class to help prepare incoming freshmen, we were asked to analyze the main character’s development in “Persepolis,” a graphic memoir about growing up in Tehran during the Iranian revolution. I thought it was an easy assignment. Everyone’s papers were distributed to the class, and it was immediately obvious how mine fell short: I merely summarized the plot of the book without making any real argument. I got a D-minus.
I did what I’d been taught growing up in school: memorize and regurgitate information. Other Georgetown freshmen from better schools had been trained to form original, concise thoughts within a breath, to focus less on remembering every piece of information, word for word, and more on forming independent ideas. I was not. I could memorize and recite facts and figures, but I didn’t know how to think for myself. Now, in an attempt to think deeper, I sometimes overthink myself into silence.
One of the biggest challenges I faced in my first semester in college was in my chemistry lecture and lab. Since I hope to go to medical school, this is a required course. I took chemistry in high school, but I didn’t learn enough to make it in this class. I was lost from the first lecture on. Despite going to a tutor three days a week, I ended up dropping the class so that I could study more on my own and be ready for it next year. The experience of dropping a class was devastating, but it was the right choice.