Tuesday, February 26, 2008

A letter to my kids

Dearest mathletes,

You did it. You passed the Algebra 2 end-of-course test to demonstrate mastery of the most accelerated mathematics course in high school. Yes, the scores arrived wicked late, but who cares? You passed. You must feel like you could run laps around the 100 building or conquer the world to spread your math knowledge to dutiful constituents. I mean, you must feel good. What comes next? Do you see yourself walking toward the stately Phillips Hall in beautiful Chapel Hill to attend a morning of differential equations, a class that will solidify your standing as a competent math major among humble peers? I hope so. Do you see yourself at Duke, plodding along among strange stone gargoyles? I hope not. But if that’s your thing, then that’s your thing. Seriously, what could possibly be more challenging than what you have just done?

Well, a lot of things. That’s not the point.

You have pushed yourself over a hump, and you might not realize it because you have only begun your descent from this achievement. I know it’s a hump because it was for me. Allow me to tell a true story.

Once upon a time, there was a high school boy named Mr. Hermann who wanted to drop out of his Algebra 2 Honors class just because he did not get it.

“Stay with it,” said his teacher, Mrs. Long. He dropped the class and enrolled in a standard section instead. Things worked out OK between math and Mr. Hermann, didn’t it? That one cowardly moment did not prevent him from earning a math degree, did it? No. Things turned out OK.

My point is that you are a step ahead of where I was at your age. You have walked through a heavy door of potential into a decorated room of success ahead of schedule. As you look around this room, you will notice three things: a beautiful cake, windows and more doors. Ignore the cake. Look through the windows. Do you see the adjacent rooms of success? Now look at the doors. They are big. They might be heavier than the one you just walked through. Don’t push on them. You are not strong enough yet. First you have to do a thousand pushups. Go!

Just kidding. Pull yourself together! Slow down. Enjoy the moment. You just did something great. Look at the cake. Now write this down: I will eat cake and celebrate my enormous accomplishment Friday, March 7, at 2:15 in room 103.

What is success if you can’t enjoy it? I will see you again soon.

Your truly grateful teacher,

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