Awards Outside of the Classroom

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As the clock started to tick, the frantic countdown began. Pencils scribbled. Brains clashed. Perspiration surfaced, challenging even the strongest brand of deodorant. As I searched for a solution to a problem, I was incredibly tenacious. Think, Josie. Think.

With one minute left, I was stuck. Arghh....... How in the world do I factor these polynomials? Time was running out, with no miracle in sight. With 30 seconds left, I finally recalled how to solve the last problem, but the clock was against me. "Pencils down! Time for team set!" OK, no problem. Don't panic. I didn't finish, but we'll make up for it in the next round. As I gazed into the eyes of my fatigued squad, I was determined to motivate the troops. "Let's go! We're in World War III with these other teams…let's solve these problems…" No answer. No reaction. Although I resisted my urge to sigh, I knew I would have to fight the battle alone......

again. Fortunately, I was up to the challenge.

I gave it every drop of energy I had, using brain cells I didn't know existed. Although the problems were stunningly complex, I was determined to win. Yet after five excruciating minutes, a voice announced: "Kennedy High is in second place with 129 points…" Argh…it hurts. Second place again.

No, this wasn't a military exercise or even rocket science. This was a grueling match between eight Mathletes teams in Southern California. A haven for Type-A math geniuses, Mathlete competitions are serious business. They pit the most talented students from each school against each other in a highly pressured battle of wits. As captain of my squad, I was determined to win. No polynomial was too complicated, no trigonometry concept too vague, no word problem too convoluted. I was the woman to beat.

Whatever the final score (first or last) in any match, I always gave it my best shot, a truly herculean effort. Yet, in Mathletes, my individual performance was irrelevant. Scores and rankings are tabulated for the whole team, not for a single member. In this particular match, my individual points couldn't compensate for those lost by the rest of the squad.

Several teachers wonder why I enjoy Mathletes so much, as the stress is overwhelming. We've won first place at three regional competitions, but a trophy at the national level continues to elude us. Yet I'm into Mathletes for its intrinsic rewards, rather than any type of external validation. In addition to challenging my mind and my profoundly competitive spirit, Mathletes shaped a confident new personality.

After a difficult adjustment to a new high school, I "found myself" when I joined Mathletes. As captain of the squad, I developed self-confidence, leadership skills and the ability to nurture others. Possibly the greatest gift I've received through Mathletes is the confidence to endure the greatest failures with poise and dignity. Some call it character, others call it class, while others call it grace under pressure. Thanks to Mathletes, I have "it" in spades.

By surviving failure with panache, I have become immune to the risk-aversion and paralysis that prevent people from testing the limits of their potential. I tackle challenges that others would never consider. I take pride in our efforts, whether we win or lose. Even if we never win first place, we are already winners in ways that I never understood before I became a Mathlete.