This I Believe

Kathleen - San Juan Capistrano, California
Entered on May 19, 2006

Scotty’s beautiful mind

If at first you don’t succeed on the exit exam…try again, like Scotty

When I read about the students who complain about the unfairness of the high-school exit exam, I wish they knew Scotty, the schizophrenic who was forced to abandon his enrollment, his shattered mind incapable of getting around the concepts required to complete his upper-division courses. He did not forsake

the determination to earn his diploma.

His mother’s phone call asked if I could help.

“It’s not so bad,” Scotty offered. “I’m cool; it is what it is.”

Then he showed me his notebook. “But I can write. I want to write.”

A week later, Scotty had completed 27 pages overflowing with the workings of his spinning mind. What looked like nonsensical word combinations, upon closer inspection revealed sudden passages of astonishingly rich imagery.

“Have you ever heard of prose poetry?” I asked him. “It’s a poem but in paragraph form.”

“I’m a poet, but don’t know it?” he smiled.

“Listen to the pictures.” I looked straight into those ice-blue eyes to bring them back to me.

Frivolous ladies walking down the streets, making miracles with their beloved ones… The city has a flow where the flowers grow. A prison to some, to others an entire dynasty… A Global parade. Ask and you shall receive in an oyster of a world. It’s going to take a lot to live this way.

He stood, pushed his chair back, and grabbed his keys.

“I can write more!” And, just like that, the prose poet was in his car. He stretched both arms out the window, made two fists, thumbs pointed to the sky—straight up.

“It is what it is!” he yelled to me.

I looked down at his journal. My eyes landed on the last line.

Thank you for the free ride and in return, a kiss. Love is all we have, in the end.

I think of Scotty when I read about all the angst and concern over equality and the all-important self-esteem that, it seems, we’ve forgotten to teach children they must earn right along with good grades and scholastic skills. Scotty doesn’t concern himself with the unfair lightning bolt that struck his brain. He does not cry “equal rights!” because others his age have something he does not—a framed graduation certificate on the wall. Instead, he calls me each week for our tutorial, eager to show me the fruits of his labor. He knows he can do it. He knows it will take time.

He takes nothing for granted, nor does he assume that it is his right to possess what he does not work for. Someday, his will be the high-school diploma whose accompanying sense of self-worth will have blessed him with pride and the unparalleled joy of a job well done.

To those students who throw in the towel, meet my friend Scotty. Channel the energy you expend to fight the system: try—try again. This world will need adults with your perseverance and integrity—not your open hand.