I remember walking through the doors of Blackstone Valley Prep Middle School seven years ago like it was yesterday.
I didn’t know anyone. The “gymnasium” was a cafeteria with a 7-foot ceiling. It smelled bad. And, for reasons I hope you will understand, I absolutely hated school.
As I walked into the tiny church building on that first day I was tearing up because I knew I was not prepared. Walking down the stairs to the cafeteria, I couldn’t handle it anymore—I just burst into tears. As I went down the stairs, Mr. Chatterjee stopped me, pulled me aside and said, “Inch by inch, life’s a cinch. Yard by yard, life’s really hard.”
I didn’t think I was ready for the rigor of Blackstone Valley Prep, but with the small steps I took there, I know I am now ready for college.
I have never been the sharpest student, but I have a lot of grit. I’ve relied on that grit and hard work to get things done. I have dyslexia, which is a disorder that makes normal tasks such as reading and writing very difficult. I understand that being diagnosed with dyslexia isn’t a death sentence, but my struggle to match my peers academically has been the primary force that has shaped my school career.
Frankly, I have always felt inferior to my peers academically because to understand any topic, I’ve always had to do double the work. While my work ethic matches the top students at any school, I have struggled to earn B’s at Blackstone Valley Prep.
But I had a solution: “out-hustling” is my pathway to a successful future.
In fifth grade, I was severely behind academically. I could not read or write at a fifth-grade level. My younger brother, a first-grader, was reading nearly as well as I was.
Despite this, I have been able to make incredible academic growth in the past seven years. I’m no longer a small fifth-grader who gets nervous when he is asked to read in class or cries when he can’t read his math problems for homework.
Now I’m older and much more confident. I can put myself out there without feeling scared, and if I need help I’m not afraid to ask. I expect nothing less than excellence for myself and hold myself to a high bar. For me, dyslexia is just a speed bump on my highway to success. My teachers have shown me that I can be successful—and once I tasted success, I began to crave it. I’m willing to work harder and longer than anyone I know just to ensure I could be in the most challenging academic classes.
But my pathway to results from hard work has been littered with self-doubt. High school is a time when adolescents find themselves, and yet I always felt I was too busy just trying to stay afloat.
At a new high school, with a new learning model and new teachers, my journey has had several detours. This is true for all students, but when you struggle to read like I do, it’s especially intense.
My biggest victory in high school was not on the soccer field or on a test, but in figuring out how to internalize information and produce college-level work in spite of my diagnosis. I’m proud to say that while I am more willing to ask for help now than I was before, I do not use my diagnosis as a crutch or an excuse. Blackstone Valley Prep gave me the confidence and tools I need to succeed in college and the world beyond. My school has molded me into the person I am today.
I want to tell my fifth-grade self that the first day of something is always hard no matter what. But with your head held high anything can be done. Blackstone Valley Prep taught me that I could do anything with the right tools and confidence. College won’t be easy, but inch by inch it will be a cinch.