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In front of the board stood two kindergarteners, a classmate and I, ready to engage in fierce competition. The task? Simply solving a two-digit addition problem. I felt my heartbeat racing, my hands shaking while holding the marker. I had no reason to worry — I had been practicing triple-digit addition long before kindergarten.
“Ready?” my kindergarten teacher asks. “53+31.”
The expo marker hits the board before she had even finished speaking. By the time she finished, I already scrawled on the board “53 +.” It was only a matter of speed. My objective? To finish the addition problem light years before my opponent. I was the undisputed champion. And that was exhilarating.
This competition continued through first and second grade. As always, I was the one to beat. I was the gold standard. It was in second grade that I started to notice a challenger, someone I could call my rival. My teachers would often pit us against each other, testing the limits of our speed. A split second hesitation would cost me the match. For every win she secured, I made sure I would take the next one. By the end of the year, we were still within mere milliseconds of finishing from each other, but light years ahead of our classmates.
Math introduced me to a whole new world, a world of competition. Math introduced me to a world where my heart raced before competition and a world where only anxiety and nervousness invaded my body. But once a round started, everything that previously obstructed me fell behind and I stepped boldly into the spotlight. As I grew older, competitions exponentially increased my additions of joy, multiplied my self-confidence, and subtracted my introversion.
Through high school, I remained as one of the top mathematicians in my class. Calculus introduced me to limits and unbounded behavior. My calculus friends (rivals) and I often completed our work in half the time rest of the class took, prompting my calculus teacher to name us “The Speed Demons.”
“Done!” one of my friends exclaimed triumphantly. The rest of us finished within five minutes afterwards. Like in elementary school, losing only added fuel to my burning desire for knowledge and I wasn’t about to concede defeat to limits.
While limits existed for most of the problems, some limits simply did not exist and a select few of those showed unbound behavior, reaching to infinity and beyond. Similarly, I did not limit myself to competition in math alone. Rather, it reached out into infinity, into Speech & Debate and other activities which shape the person I am today.
Math always has, and always will consume my life. Even before preschool, I was already drilling pages of triple-digit by triple-digit addition and subtraction, along with multiplication tables during the summer before kindergarten.
Why was I forced to learn multiplication as a kindergartener? Back then, I didn’t know. I didn’t know about the numerous opportunities that my parents saw in the American dream. I didn’t know that it was their inscription of hope and love onto paper. I just knew math made numbers become more numbers. Math transcended the English barrier that my parents could not break. Math didn’t care about who you were, where you were from, or what you did. It just worked.
I’m grateful that my parents taught me math early on in my childhood. Math allowed me to transcend what I thought were my own limits and brought a whole new lens for me to view the world. It brought me to healthy competition, where I was able to transcend my social awkwardness and meet new people. It brought me to new activities, ones I thought I would never do. But most importantly, it brought me to new people that inspired me to be even greater. Today, I fear not risks or dreaming big. Because with me, the limit does not exist.
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