John Keating: Sucking the marrow out of life doesn’t mean choking on the bone. There’s a time for daring, and there’s a time for caution, and a wise man understands which is called for.
Charlie Dalton: But I’d thought you’d like that…
Keating: No. You being expelled from school is not daring to me, it’s stupid. Cause you’ll miss some golden opportunities.
Dalton: Yeah, like what?
Keating: Like if nothing else, the opportunity to attend my classes….Got it ace?
Dalton: Aye aye Captain.
Keating: Keep your head about you.
~ John Keating (Robin Williams) and Charlie Dalton (Gale Hansen) from Dead Poets’ Society (1989)
THERE IS a flaw in the educational system—and then there is a flaw with me, apparently.
The flaw in the educational system is the same single principle that professors and administrators alike at every university and every single elementary, middle school and high school across America know about—every student in the K-12 and in the adult system of higher education—must all learn the material at the same rigorous pace and digest this material all in time for every single test administered during the academic school year—practically everywhere in this country and across the globe.
Rewind the clock back to Tuesday, November 29, 2011.
My father came in-person to visit me here at the University of California Riverside (UCR). After not seeing him for nearly three months, I was having bittersweet recollections and this uneasy “not-meeting-up-to-his-academic-expectations-for-me” kind of mentality sweep through my head the entire day—that I had somehow “failed” him because I’m a cruddy student.
Because I lived through those experiences too with both of my parents from a young age growing up under their roof—chastised because I didn’t comprehend the material—especially in math-based subjects, more or less, and occasionally in English as well—and also because I knew that my parents were very well-educated themselves and excepted a lot of me—but instead of persevering and striving to do better academically, for many years—since 8th grade onwards—I shriveled. I did worse every year afterwards.
And I am certain my parents sat on the sidelines numerous times and what they saw was not what they were hoping for—but I didn’t know to properly reach out to them, for I was more intimidated of them than actually taking the initiative and wanting to ask for academic help on numerous occasions—and this past Tuesday, that same kind of childhood fear came back to haunt me again at times, I’ll admit.
But if viewed from another perspective, my parents have come to view me as a kid who may struggle every now and then in his academics, but strive to offer more help and support now than they did all these past few years, because they start to accept I may have some cognitive difficulties as a result of my cerebral palsy.
Regardless whether I may struggle or not, I know I’ve always developed this “woe-is-me-because-I-have-a-disability-and-I-hate-it” kind of mentality for so long that, that’s how I picture myself; when I know that that mental picture should be far from the truth—and learning to separate my emotions from reality.
It has indeed been a cumulative process for me—but now that I’m in my first year of college—I look back and see how far I have come—and how much more I need to go.
And those depressing, woeful thoughts start to disappear, as they are replaced by thoughts of self-confidence and gratitude.
You’re one hell of a guy. Even though you have a disability, you still fit in perfectly with everyone. You always make an effort to talk to people and to start a new friendship. It’s been fun talking to you all the time too. I can tell you’re really genuine when I talk to you….
~ Michael Bokun Xu, an excerpt from his compliment to me (2011)
…Well, I have to say that you are an amazing individual. Even with cerebral palsy it’s amazing how you are still able to move day to day with such a positive attitude. I love your laugh because it’s hella funny (especially when Mr. Richards is talking) and also how you always try to talk to as many people as you can. I know that you are aspiring to be a writer, and I must say it is a great career choice for you. I’ve seen all of your notes on Facebook and it was amazing to see how eloquent an individual can be once they write out their thoughts.…I know that you are going to be incredibly successful if you keep up your positive mentality.
~ Raymond Chen, an excerpt from his compliment to me (2011)
I chose the words of these two former high school classmates of mine—Michael Xu now attending USC and Raymond Chen now attending UC Davis—simply because I could tell right away, they both get their point across very clearly—a point that I’ve been searching for and repeatedly chasing after nearly all my life—having a disability isn’t the end of the world—it doesn’t have to be perceived that way at all—because unknowingly, I have often used it as a source of strength and inspiration as well…and now, as I also near nineteen years of age in a few weeks, it is my greatest inspiration ever.
As to my academic slump, it doesn’t have to be the end either, I know that as well.
But when I am placed into a situation like when Neil Perry confronts his father in Dead Poets’, I now know what I have to do. Besides doing this for the grade and for the mere aspect of a thing we call “school”, more importantly, I want to do this—showing my family I can live independently—to prove it to them more than myself that I am indeed capable, and that I now believe I can.
And if all my efforts eventually start to pay off and come to pass, I can transfer back to UC Riverside or any of the other SoCal UCs in the future (I’m not leaving out the NorCal UCs here either, but by now, I’ve grown fond of SoCal as well).
As a lot of people have already told me before, “This isn’t the end, but merely the beginning.” I now do realize this is true, but it still requires that bit of effort on my part.
No lazy excuses there.
Returning and reflecting on the idea of an educational reform yet again though, I once again turn to Richards and my father, who have both similarly said that the great minds in history—my father often using Einstein and Edison as great examples—that they too both struggled in academic institutions, but after many years of their own research and innovative thinking, they too could live with this fact that though they both did struggle cognitively in some areas, in others, they shined.
Think about the mere idea that Edison took over ten thousand tries to perfect the first ever light bulb.
Why? Because most of us would have given up after the first twenty or a hundred tries, let alone ten thousand.
And I don’t even have to go into detail about Einstein’s general theory of relativity, E = mc2.
We’ve all heard it before.
But even as I have briefly read before in school as well, he spent many years trying to find and develop the simplest equation in quantum physics.
Hard to believe, I know…but it’s true.
Paraphrasing my former high school teacher Jaime Richards here, “We all have to work hard at something, and sometimes, it’s even harder than you think.”
When I was attending his classes over a year ago, he often used Rocky (or in this case, Rocky IV) as a great example.
Rocky, in the film, ran for miles at a time, sawed logs, chopped down trees, attempted to pull a dog sled on his own, attempted to lift heavy rocks while trying not to break his back, and attempted to tread through the thick snow while carrying a heavy crossbeam tied to his arms (Jaime occasionally making that reference to Jesus here).
He did all of that—in a 3-minute montage—and still ended up defeating his Soviet adversary in the end.
If this was in real life, anybody would be amazed at what Rocky could do—because it looks like he did the impossible here—going up against a Russian man who’s taller and appears to have even more muscle build than him.
Still, it’s an inspirational training montage, even if it may seem a bit extraordinary in the real world.
But I’m going to go into more detail with this topic in a later column.
For now, I’d like to close by saying that no matter where I go for the rest of this school year—or even a few years down the line—a community college or a UC—I do know that I’ve got some training to do too.
In my words, I can take this UC mentality and implant it at a community college, do well there academically, and always come back later.
Besides, I want to…and I do remember that old adage, “If you want something really badly, it can always come true with a lot of heart and a bit of effort.”
Cause this applies to what’s going on in my life very well at the moment, and I guess I’m going to go forward with this said plan in mind then.
I’m just not going to say goodbye just yet.
Instead, I’ll say, “See you all around. We’ll meet again.”
I love you UCR! I’ll be rooting for y’all Highlanders, even when I’m back in the Bay Area!
~ A Fellow Columnist, Josh Chen.