Ignatian Scholarship Day: A reflection by someone who used to get picked on for being smart

By Branwyn Wilkinson

Opinion Contributor

I was nervous to be presenting in Ignatian Scholarship Day this past Wednesday, but not for the reason you might think.

I was that kid who was made fun of for doing well in school, which sounds crazy, I know. There should be no way to turn good grades into a negative, especially when you don’t brag about them and you did do the work to earn them. But I promise you, it happens.

One of the clearest memories I have from sixth grade is walking past a classmate as she looked at some work I had done displayed in the hallway. I remember the classmate turning to her friend and saying, “She thinks she’s so smart and that she’s better than us.”

I don’t know why this instance stands out in my mind more than others. I know it wasn’t the first time something like that had happened, and I know it wasn’t the last. While I was never actually bullied, by high school I had gotten enough comments to know to keep quiet about my high grades and other achievements.

To this day, I don’t like getting called out for doing well. I currently have a professor who will congratulate me in front of the class for high test scores and I hate it. I’m not the only one he’ll do this to, and it doesn’t bother me when he does it to other people. But every time he does it to me, all I can think about is how some of my classmates in high school decided they didn’t like me after the last time a teacher publicly congratulated me for doing well.

So the prospect of having my work put on display brought up some bad memories for me. Which is silly, I know. Ignatian Scholarship Day is a celebration of what Canisius is all about. Its purpose is to let you showcase your work for others, not to give others a reason to dislike you. But up until now, that was the only experience I’d had.

This makes participating in Ignatian Scholarship Day even more worth it for me, because now I finally have an experience in which my peers complimented me for my hard work, instead of judging me for it. And that’s important.

I have known people who brag. They bother me as much as they bother anyone else. No one wants to be that person who’s known for bragging.

There’s a fine line between bragging and talking up your achievements. So fine, in fact, that people often clam up about their success for fear of being accused of bragging. But I’m finally realizing how important it is to learn how to talk about your success.

In the real world, we won’t be judged by tests and grades. We’ll be judged by our achievements. Job interviewers want to know what you’ve done in the past to figure out if you could move their company forward. If you don’t talk up all the cool things you’ve done, you won’t get hired. People are attracted to ambition. If you don’t talk about what you want out of life and what you’re doing to get it, you’ll make fewer friends and get asked on less dates.

For me, the best thing I got out of participating in Ignatian Scholarship Day is confirmation that it’s okay to be smart, and it’s okay to work hard, and, most importantly, it’s okay to be proud of that.

Despite what your snarky middle school classmates might have you believe, acknowledging your skills and hard work is not a bad thing. In fact, high school is probably the last time in your life that it ever possibly could be. Make that the thousandth item on the list of why I’m so glad that time of my life is over.

In high school, I never talked about my AP scores. My best friends and favorite teachers are the only people who know that the project I poured so much energy into my senior year landed me scholarship opportunities and a summer internship.

Since starting college, I have learned to share grades and talk about approaches to projects. It helps us all do better. I have celebrated my friends’ high marks with them, and they have congratulated me on my achievements. I love talking to my graduating friends about their plans for next year, and they never fail to ask me what I’m planning to do after I get my degree. Suddenly the taboo against talking about anything that might make you “better” than someone else has been lifted.

Having different skills or plans than someone else doesn’t make you any better than them. It also doesn’t make them any better than you. It makes you different. It means you’ve figured out how you can best contribute to the world so you can make a positive impact. And if that isn’t something worth celebrating, I don’t know what is.

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