I found myself sitting in a room, a little too crowded, but not too bad. Another table or 2 in the room could have made for a little less knee knockage and plate clinking. But it was, in reality, not too bad.
I knew very few people in the room, just those at my little table, at least 4 of them.
I was listening to some of them give speeches, campaign speeches, in hopes of earning enough people's respect and trust to vote them into office for the Regional offices of Phi Theta Kappa OK/Ark region.
My fellow Alpha Mu Iota members and I kept our fingers, toes and anything we could cross, crossed for the youngest, newest member of our group. A young woman, 19, on the cusp of the reality that will be her future. Watching her give her story, knowing the back story, brought a tear to my eye.
I found myself looking around the room and I had this sudden flash back to an earlier time in my life. Another room full of round tables with chairs on them where knees knocked, cups spilled and people made general chaos. The tables were smaller, the chairs were tiny and the purpose was far different. I also was not sitting in the room with those who the chairs and tables were meant for.
I was sitting on my step fathers lap, my mother to my right and my kindergarten teacher across the table. I was 4 years old. The cut off for kindergarten was Dec 1, and my November 21 Birthday put me into the class much younger than the majority of my peers. An immature 4 years old, and rather small ... apparently, I was a handful for the teacher.
She showed my mom my file, my letters all learned and the only one in the class that could not only count to 100, with the next highest being somewhere in the 30's (not revealed who or how high into the 30's) but I was able to recognize the printed form of the letters in any order and put them in order. My letters were clearly, neatly written, in both capital and lower case and my reading skills unmistakable. They were allowing me to go to "The Big Library" that was reserved for the 2nd to 6th graders, when the rest of the class went to "The Little Book room" the library for the kindergarteners and first graders.
I can remember my step father patting either my hand or my chest. My mom nodding "hm hmms" acknowledging that they knew I could do all of these things. They, like my teacher were quite concerned with not my inability, but out right refusal to color within the lines, to write my letters on the line, in order as requested as well as my refusal to stay seated, not hollar out answers during story time and my insistance on chasing Harold around the playground.
I was sitting in this room of round tables and little chairs while grown ups talked about my abilities and my 'refusals' and then I heard it ... "She just won't make it in a classroom. You need to take her out, and put her back into pre school."
Maybe I shouldn't have understood, but I CLEARLY understood what was meant. I, was not going to be allowed to come back to school. I was being sent either home, or to school with 'little kids' back to preschool that I'd already graduated from.
I heard the words
All Day School
I can remember clearly, starting to cry and asked "But aren't I smart enough?"
And I will never forget my mothers statement. In a matter of fact as if I should have understood this all along ... and if I'd wanted to, I could have had a different outcome ...she just looked at me and said
"Smart doesn't matter"
and with that, my world turned upside down. .
I went back to kindergarten the following year after spending the remaining of the world with an embarrassing pumpkin and jack and jill hill to play on. Only 'babies' would want these things!
I continued to read, and to count, and to color and to learn ... and the next year in kindergarten, on the playground the kindergarteners I was now with were about my size instead of much bigger. The bigger kindergarteners were now on the other side of the fence and at recess seemed to gather and point ... "There's Piggie! She flunked kindergarten!"
Somewhere in this time I first heard the term "Minimal Brain Dysfunction" ...so there it was, I had a brain that was broken (and somehow knew that was what dysfunction meant!) and I'd flunked kindergarten. What chance did I have? After all, I'd already been told smart did not matter.
That was it, I flunked kindergarten. It colored my thoughts of my school work clear through my high school graduation. I was not the high functioning student that could compete with my peers (and win) I was the person who flunked kindergarten.
So here I am, some 39 years later, 46 years old sitting in a room with larger chairs full of my peers. College students on the road to making a life for themselves. People of every race, color, socioeconomic status and age. I was by no means the oldest, not by a long shot. There were people who were much older, heavier and much younger and much thinner. There were people who were significantly healthier and some that were obviously in worse shape. I was a person in the middle of the room, watching speeches being given and I was suddenly struck with that memory of the round tables and smart didn't matter ... to realize I was here because Smart Does Matter ... to me .. it matters.
I was suddenly not the minimally brain dysfunctioned girl ... I was not the one that could not, would not, should not ... but the one that not onlyc ould ... should but WAS DOING ...
I was in a room full of Phi Theta Kappa students ... an honor society for those who had maintained scholarship levels that deserved recognition. I was here with people who not only thought I belonged, but wanted me here ...
I was a scholarly student whose stubborness is defined by one of the speakers (not about me directly, but boy did it feel that way!) as persistance ..the persisitance that would get me through to goal when the passion fades or seems far away. The persistance that once held me back was pushing me forward.
Tears welled up in my eyes and I realized that I'd worked very hard to get here ... and smart, for me, does count for something. It matters ...but more than that I began to understand