By Cori Uddenberg, Volunteer, Communities In Schools of Peninsula
Pencil to paper, marker to dry erase board, finger to calculator. The medium changes constantly. Never the same in process but always the same in answer: math. I teach her how to add mixed numbers, divide decimals. She teaches me to love the life I have. I teach her to subtract fractions, multiply three-digit numbers. She teaches me to utilize my power to change my world and myself. We teach each other, because life, I have learned, is like math. Search long enough, try hard enough, risk enough, and the answer can be found. Life is not always easy. Neither is math. But I have found that those twists and turns along the way have just been life going absolutely perfectly.
I did not have this epiphany on my own. I did not wake up one morning with a greater understanding of my life than I had the day before. I did not open my mind to reason in just one day. A seventh grade girl did all of that for me. We met through the Communities In Schools of Peninsula program, which connected struggling students to willing mentors. During the fall of my junior year I decided to become a middle school math mentor. But, after eight months, I realized that I was not the only teacher.
I remember my first day tutoring. I remember walking into the library, one of the last to arrive, and the loud rattling noises the door made as it eased shut. I remember looking around at the brown circular tables, full of students with mentors decades older, and decades more experienced, than I. I remember finding my name written in permanent ink on a piece of 8 by 11 printer paper, put haphazardly on the table next to a seventh grade girl. She did not look like I had imagined she would. Her light blonde hair had been dyed black and she was wearing sweats, a sweatshirt, and a pair of vans. I am not going to say I did not judge her or expect her to be a lost cause. To say I did not would be a lie, because I did judge her. And I regret having done so.
I regret judging her because I was wrong.
Life had not been kind to her. She rarely saw her dad. She was moving across the country in less than a year. She was less intelligent than her younger brother. From where I sat, her life appeared to be an uphill battle. From where I sat, her life appeared to be one problem after another. But she never saw life that way. She chose to focus on the times she did see her dad, the fact that a new state meant new opportunities, and that less intelligent in math did not mean she was lesser than her brother. Because she chose optimism, she taught me to choose optimism too.
I realized that life rarely, if ever, follows the plans I had hoped it would. My parents may not be married anymore, my sister/best friend may be leaving for college in the fall, and my brother may be impermeable to my advice. But I do not fight those battles everyday. And, even if I had to fight every day, the little, wonderful moments I have every day are enough to make my life beautiful. The little moments, like throwing sand dollars on the beach for my dog, watching my friends skate board after having a mud fight on the beach, and being given a flower from an adorable five-year-old boy, are what really count. After all, life is what happens when we are busy making other plans. Good things happen everyday. Before Communities In Schools of Peninsula, I just wasn’t seeing them. But now, I could not miss them even if I tried.
Cori originally wrote this essay for her high school Advanced Placement Comp and Language class June 6, 2011.