Back To School: I Wasn’t The Brightest Crayon In The Gifted And Talented Box

By  | 

For my junior and senior years of high school, I attended a gifted and talented high school in my state. Every year, the program took about 75 students to live on a college campus and take advanced placement and college classes. At 16, I thought that this was the coolest thing ever. I got to move out two years early and attend a challenging program that guaranteed some scholarship opportunities for college. I like to think that I was pretty put-together teenager. I got straight A’s, had decent scores on my SATs and was involved in a lot of after-school activities. I was President of my sophomore class and on our school’s dance team. When I got accepted to the program, I felt pretty darn confident in my abilities.

Then, I met my new classmates. Suddenly, I went from being the apple of all my teacher’s eyes to just another smarty-pants. In fact, I could barely call myself “smart” by these standards. I went from top 20 in a class of 600 to decidedly mediocre in a class of 75. We had more than one student who had scored a perfect 1600 on their SATs (back when the SATs only had a possible 1600 points). Some of my classmates had been taking college-level courses since middle school. All around me were the most intelligent and gifted students in my state. What on earth did they want me for?

After a couple days of orientation, the reasoning behind my selection was pretty clear. The school I attended originally formed as a “safe haven” for students who were too smart to fit in at their local high schools. It gave kids who were more interested in physics and programming an opportunity to break out of the normal teenage bubble where dating and social skills reigned supreme. The idea was to create a community for these young people to feel involved and supported in. Unfortunately, gathering together 150 extremely intelligent but socially awkward teenagers was not the utopia that the school founders dreamed of. They had issues with depression running rampant through their dorms and two tragic suicides in their first decade of operation.

The school now had a choice: bring in a more diverse group of young people who seemed socially capable of living on their own or close. As a member of multiple student organizations with decent grades, I was one of the school’s first attempts at balancing out their student body. Myself and a handful of others didn’t meet the genius requirements of our other classmates, but we managed to be high-achieving and socially involved. The school looked to us to lead volunteer organizations and prom committees. We arranged movie nights and carnivals. We were in charge of trying to create a normal teenage atmosphere for our uber-talented peers.

Of course, these expectations were never spelled out like that. They didn’t want to make the social kids feel like the cruise directors or our peers feel like geeks in need of social outreach. But no one missed the fact that our RA constantly asked for my help in “motivating my peers to get involved”. It wasn’t surprising when teachers allowed me extra time on assignments when I had a large event coming up. I was still expected to do my work and I was still graded just as harshly, but my professors took a lot of extra time tutoring me as well.

It was humbling, to go from being one of the smartest in my class to struggling through my course work. I can still remember crying the first time I ever failed an assignment. I called home to my parents, practically unable to breathe, and begged to come home. But as time went on, I rose up to the challenging work. I honestly believe that my experience helped me later in life. It taught me that some things aren’t easy, but they’re worth the hard work you put into them. I was a guinea pig in a little experiment that my friends and I now refer to as “genius integration”. For what I know, my alma mater is still trying to balance their classes of super-smart Mensa members and outgoing, active kids who happen to test well.

One of my former classmates is currently working on his doctorate from Stanford and assisting on cancer research being done in their medical center. Emailing him back and forth, I still feel like the mediocre little pep rally leader every once in a while. But the fact is, we graduated together. We completed a lot of the same course work and we left with the same GPA. Back then, I felt intimidated and insecure surrounded by all those IQ points. Now, I feel pretty proud to call a lot of those geniuses my friends.

Image courtesy of Crystal Kirk via Shutterstock

It might not be that embarassing, but heading back to school with a dorm full of geniuses was definitely my most humbling school experience. What about you guys? Send us your back to school stories for the chance to win a backpack of school necessities and see your story published on Mommyish.