Except for the second term of sixth grade, I've always topped my class. I've never failed any test. In my high school board exams and in my A Level board exams, I got the best grades we could get. And I'm so far into two years of university and have never gotten any grade below distinction.
This makes me sound like a conceited, toffee-nosed stuck-up person, but God knows I'm not bragging. I know for a fact I'm not more intelligent that the average person. Maybe if people ask me what I've achieved in life I would repeat the above paragraph, not out of satisfaction but simply because I have nothing else to list.
There was a time when, as lame as it sounds, being a topper depressed me. I'm a very, very shy person and the last thing I wanted was to have teachers praise me and have the entire class look around at me. I hated being the teacher's pet always. I hated it when they would pick me for their "special tasks". I hated it when teachers would compare me to other students. I hated it when teachers would grab my book to show as an example to the class. I hated being the one who always did her homework, and always gave her assignments on time. I hated being the one everyone turned to when it was time to copy. And the worst thing I hated out of all of this was all the classmates who would take my phone-number and become "friends" with because I would come in handy.
I can remember at least five girls at the moment from my class-mates whose daily routine consisted of calling me- every single day of the academic year. I've spent hours of my life with the phone ear piece reddening my ear and all our school books surrounding me, repeating the answers of the next day's homework word by word, or number by number. I would hear the dreaded phone ring and look at the number on the call register, and if it was one of the familiar numbers, I would literally feel my heart sink a centimeter- at the thought that I'm going to spend the next hour giving away all my work to other girls. Some of the girls wouldn't even bother pretending to want anything else. "Hello? It's you? Done with the homework? Come on."
Funny how I wouldn't hear from any of them once the summer vacations started. Now that I think of it, I can't believe how much of a tread-on I was. I've come a long way from there. "Tell them to do their own work" my dad would scream angrily. Each time I would promise myself that would be the day, my courage would fail me and we'll be back to the same old routine. At some point, my dad started picking up the phone to tell them I was busy and they shouldn't call again. That didn't work. Not picking up at all wouldn't work either. They'd keep ringing till they had their work read out to them.
All my class-mates naturally assumed I was a topper because I spent most of my time studying. Nothing could be further from the truth. I can swear on my life that most of my classmates studied more than I did and had parents who were after their life. If you ask me why I did so well, I would say it's because my parents taught me to love learning and then left me to it. I don't remember my parents ever telling me to go study. On the day before my A-Level final examination, I told my mom I felt like going to the movies. We watched The Accidental Husband together, laughed lots, stuffed ourselves with popcorn and had an amazing day. I know someone from school whose parents moved the television into the store-room a week before her final examinations. My parents couldn't stand pampering like that.
My parents are both engineers, and my father is a PhD. So don't get me wrong, it's not that they're not educated, nor that they're not interested in my education. But my parents realized something that most parents never do: education doesn't start from a kid's first day at school. It starts from our birth day. It's not about how much you can stuff your brains with, it's about being passionate about finding out more about this world. During my childhood, the best day of the week was the day we would go the public library, pick out books to read- our own choices. When we would sit down to watch the news, my father would tell us all about the events of the twentieth century, events that happened before we were born but that somehow led to the news we were watching at the time. I remember in fifth grade history, when we were supposed to be learning about the Victorian Age and our history teacher couldn't make it more boring if she tried. My father narrated it all to me like it was one exciting fairy tale. I knew about Stalin and Hitler and Mussolini before we started on them at school. I read my textbooks like they were novels and enjoyed every bit. I was always thirsty to know more. I didn't care much about exams and how well I should prepare for them. I was just genuinely interested in most of my subjects.
Exam time meant nothing in my family. It was absolutely no excuse to use to skip my dish-washing chore, or to avoid visiting family friends. "The exams are just testing how much you already know" was what my mom always reminded me, and such a relief that was to know I wasn't under any pressure. I never really set a time aside to prepare for the exams. The preparation happened without me noticing: whenever we studied anything, I would listen carefully to make sure I've understood what happened in class, and if I didn't, I'd go home and read it up myself. I never felt like I was studying then, it was just researching to know more. I won't lie and say my grades didn't matter to me: if I felt the exam didn't go that well, I felt disappointed with myself for not having them under my control.
I know I've matured now since my school days because it no longer matters to me what people think. Peoples' perceptions about me are entirely irrelevant. I love defending interesting courses when they're accused of being a bore, and I love looking up extra material in the library, regardless of when exams are. I also know I've matured because I've learned when help is really needed, when it's hiding under an invisibility cloak, and when it's just a disguise.
Something else has change now too- I love getting high grades: no, they don't tell me I'm intelligent or great, they just re-assure me that I'm still as passionate about learning as I was when I first learned my ABCs. That the spark in me is still lit, and as long as it stays there, everything is going to be okay.