This I Believe

William - South Holland, Illinois
Entered on October 1, 2006
Age Group: 30 - 50

This I Believe Essay

I believe that there is a wonderful freedom that comes along with being a nerd.

I’m not going to tell you a sob story about how middle school was a terrifying experience for me, how I got picked on by bullies, called names, and how I was always picked last, because that is an old story – though a true one – and I am guessing that everyone has heard such a story. There are millions of kids right now who feel miserable about their the amount of abuse they have to take – and, though I don’t want to minimize their pain — I believe that there is hope for them, as there was hope for me.

No, my point is that once you come to terms with your nerd-ness, accept it, you gain a freedom that most people don’t have.

Look, consider what it is like to have to be cool all the time, especially if you are in middle school or high school. You really have no choices at all in how you act. You can’t just take part in any old activity, you first have to figure out whether it will gain or lose you status. Is track enough of an athletic event to participate in? Will people think less of you if you get involved in the school play? You can’t just go to someone’s party without first knowing whether the cool people will be there. You can’t really be friends with anyone except people who are either as cool or more cool than you. You have to carefully pick what you wear, what you listen to, and what you drive. You must at all times feign indifference or outright disinterest in school teachers, parents, current events, church, politics, cultural events, and anything that looks like it might be in some way educational. And you have to be very careful what you laugh at, and even how you laugh.

In contrast, consider my life as a nerd. I was on the debate team and involved in theater in high school, and met a diverse group of wonderful people. I ran track for a season, did horribly at running the mile, but laughed a lot – a loud, honking horse sort of laugh. My friends never pressured me to drink or smoke or do anything that I didn’t want to do – we were on the bottom of the status pile, we knew it, and so we had nothing to prove. By high school we had gathered a fairly large group of cast-offs, dorks, and nerdy-types, and we laughed our way through a world of cliques and status games. My best friend John wore cement boots to school – they looked ridiculous, but felt comfortable. In the late eighties it was cool to wear your backpack on just one shoulder. John and I wore our backpacks over both shoulders and tied the strap in the middle. Neither of us grew a mullet, something I remain grateful for to this day. We brought books with us to our high school football games, and read when things got slow. We listened to rock, country, punk, classical, alternative, and folk music, and enjoyed the best music that all of those genres can offer. We went to the movies in the Shirleymobile, my friend Rick’s mom’s station wagon. Sometimes on the weekends, when there was nothing going on, we would all hang out and read in the same room.

When I got to college, I discovered that as you grow older, the very things that make you nerdy are valued by others. Though John and Rick and I were convinced in college that male nerds were doomed to a life of loneliness, in college we discovered beautiful and intelligent women are interested in intelligent, caring guys. Unbelievably, we are both married, and have amazing families. I love take my children to movies, plays, concerts, and cultural events of all types, heedless of who is going to be there and whether it will win me cool points. I am still learning stuff, over twenty years after high school, and I honestly enjoy my life. I am a nerd, and I am totally cool with that.

The other day one of my students told me that because our family doesn’t own a television, and because our daughter is learning to play the violin, because we dress her in clothes from the thrift store, and because we are teaching her that it is more important to care for the people of the earth than it is to own a lot of things, that we are dooming her to the life of a nerd. I smiled at that. I can think of no gift I would rather give to