As I walk barefoot down an unknown path, I keep losing myself, losing my sense of self because I am challenged by life’s hardships, trying to stay positive. Relentlessly pulverized by educators’ lack of faith, I fight for the chance to prove myself. Those educators chose my destiny, and instead of encouragement, support, and resources, they bullied me with their words:

“Accept your limitations”

“You’re not teachable”

“I don’t care if you learn or not, I still get paid”

“You will never learn above 3rd-grade level, go to college, or function in society and your job potential is to be a maid in a hotel.”

Anxiety built as I sat in row D. “D is for dummies” my teacher said. It was set in motion, at the age of twelve when educators decided reading comprehension, math, science, English, and social studies were not important because I was considered unteachable, labeled mentally retarded.

Despite a few educators provided a glimmer of hope, in the end, I was pushed into the real world with a third-grade reading level at the age of eighteen and stood gazing at street signs I could not read.

And yet, years later awesome, amazing, and fantastic is the person others see. I am awesome because I am determined, driven, and eclectic. I am amazing, because I welcome the unknown, embrace possibilities and promote creativity. I am fantastic, because I share my knowledge, encourage dreamers, and dare others to make positive choices with their lives. This they tell me, and yet, the past haunts me.

Despite how far I’ve come from that 18-year old, standing here gazing at my master’s degree in Non-profit Management from Washington University, and despite knowing that I can contribute at that level, my accomplishments are diminished by the harsh words of those early educators in my life.

The person I portray to the world is the person I want to be. Yet, the universe is not so easily fooled by my trickery. She looks past my warm smile and positive attitude, and sees the confused unhappy woman, bent but still standing against life’s hardships. This woman wants desperately to find her place in this universe and make all the struggle and rejection worth something, to use it to help other people and other organizations bring life and encouragement to the similarly downtrodden. This woman is proud.