High school graduation is the day that many of us have looked forward to our entire lives. I remember sitting in the May heat at my older sister's graduation in 2014, wishing that the next two years would fly by so I, too, could cross that stage. High school graduation was a milestone to which I worked tirelessly. All the late nights of studying and tears shed because of a bad test grade here and there seemed worth it when I held my diploma in my hands.
But there was something else. There was something I didn't realize until after my tassel was turned and I was an official graduate of Chamblee Charter High School. There was something I didn't realize until the official end of my high school journey: I am enough, and I always have been.
When you first think about it, that may seem like a strange thing to realize in the midst of my high school graduation ceremony. The truth about me is that I spent a vast amount of time in high school believing that there was something wrong with me and my intellectual capabilities. I thought the intersection of my race and gender (black, female) instantly made me inferior to my classmates. That's what was was subliminally taught to me by the outside world – from television, to the occasional teacher, to words written and posted online.
I was uncomfortable in my own skin for years, not because I was unhappy with my race or gender but because I believed that who I was just wasn't enough. I was always slightly uncomfortable in intellectual discussions with people of other races, unless I was extremely well-versed in that subject. I never wanted to run the risk of putting myself out there completely and sounding dumb afterwards. When you're the minority in a predominantly white space, whether that be in discussions, a classroom or an entire school, you are sometimes viewed as the spokesperson or representative of your race. The way you act impacts how others view black people after your encounter with them. That's a heavy burden to bear and so, I often held my tongue in conversations just because I didn't want to say something mistakenly and misrepresent my entire race.
I spent so much of high school believing I wasn't good enough. I spent so much of high school wondering why or how I was a gifted/magnet student in one of the best high schools in the state of Georgia. In the midst of an incredibly competitive environment, I wondered what on earth qualified me to be there.
I did well in high school, don't get me wrong. My friends outside of school always told me how smart I was and came to me for testing strategies and help with studying. I never believed them, because I felt completely average compared to my classmates. I was so conditioned to comparing myself to my classmates and measuring my intelligence against their GPA. In retrospect, my GPA was great. But since I saw myself only through the lens of comparison with my classmate's accomplishments, I pushed myself further into the belief that I wasn't doing – or being – enough. I let people look down on me because of my race and I let people be condescending towards me because of my gender. Black women are an undermined and under-appreciated group of people, and that is a statement I can say with confidence because I have experienced it in my own life.
That GPA I deemed horrible since it wasn't a perfect 4.0, that SAT score I was unhappy with because I was only a short distance away from cracking 2000, the AP classes I lost countless hours of sleep over and so much more all had a hand in getting me the full-tuition scholarship that is taking me to the school I dreamed of. It wasn't until I got my college acceptance, scholarship offer and honors program acceptance that I realized I am enough. I am smart. I am capable of accomplishing great things and I will accomplish great things because I will let myself do so.
Some students thrive in a competitive environment while others find themselves falling behind. To all the students who identify with the latter half of that statement, just know that you're enough. Though the competition surrounding you may convince you otherwise, know who you are outside of your academic achievements. You're more than that test you aced or the quiz you failed. You're more than what your classmates say or think. You're more than the color of your skin or the gender with which you identify. None of that determines your potential and your capability to succeed, but I'll tell you what does.
A huge lesson I learned in high school was that the only person holding me back from greatness was myself. Of course there are going to be challenges in life, even after you decide to tap into your greatness. But once you truly and fully believe in yourself and your capabilities, there is no stopping you. When you believe in yourself, you'll keep pursuing your potential no matter what obstacle gets in your way. Trust yourself, trust your instincts and above all else, trust that brilliance lives within you.
Lead Image Credit: Luftphilia via Flickr Creative Commons