(Originally posted on 8/25/2009. Revised and republished.)
I’m very smart. I may not always exhibit the best common sense, and my emotional maturity level is that of a 19-year old, but when it comes to observing, learning, and applying what I’ve learned, I excel.
I don’t say this to brag. It’s just necessary information for this story.
So. It’s 1989.
There I was, this smart-ass brilliant 12-year old kid, a year younger than everyone else in 8th grade (I would have been two years younger if my parents hadn’t been too damn afraid to put me in kindergarten at 3), discussing high school with my mother. See, there was this brand new, two-year old program at Spruce Creek High School in Port Orange, four towns over, called the International Baccalaureate program. The Daytona Beach News-Journal, a bastion for terrible reporting and subjective journalism at its worst, had published an article about it, and even though it was part of a huge public school, you had to apply to get into the program itself. I don’t remember what scores they needed – PSAT probably – but attendance was quite limited. It had a different focus on learning than any other program, and unlike AP, it required a full commitment – you couldn’t pick and choose classes if you wanted to get your IB diploma – the diploma that would typically allow you to skip a full semester worth of credits in college.
I was hesitant to attend. Change will always terrify me. My mother, always the influencer and decision maker from the shadows, encouraged me to follow an existing student for a day and see what I thought.
I loved it.
My 13th birthday passed, summer started to turn to autumn, and my first day of school in the International Baccalaureate program approached. My bus assignment memorized, I was ready to be on the corner of Knollwood Estates Drive and Hidden Hills Drive at 5:45 AM. (As I was coming from almost 20 miles away, that school district had set up a special bussing system that would pick up kids from all over the various towns at ungodly hours and get them to school by the first class at 7:27 AM).
I stood there, shivering in the August heat. With the exception of a short-lived stint in seventh grade that ended with two bullies, a beating, my ass, and the ground, I had never been to a public school before. This was a huge transition from the security blanket of my private school, with only 11 people in my 8th grade class, people I had been with since first grade. My backpack weighing almost as much as I did, I put my Walkman headphones in, Weird Al blasting loudly, and waited for my bus.
“This will be awesome,” I halfheartedly told myself. “I can’t wait for some of these classes!” Yes, I’m well aware of the extreme level of geekiness in that sentiment. Here’s another tidbit of nerdliciousness for you to chew on. I used to sit at lunch with my friends and we would see who could correctly identify the highest number of elements in the periodical table in order. We would try to stump each other with calculus. I am geek, hear me roar.
In my head, I painted tapestries of grandeur. Our bus would probably have a special banner on the side, declaring our status as the International Baccalaureate kids. We would descend in full view of the student population as a hush went over the crowd. “Those are the smart kids,” someone would whisper while others nodded, trying to bask in our vast intelligence. The teachers would note our eager shining faces and the administrators would know that we were the good kids. The seniors would be impressed by our collective rising star. We would rule this place through intellect alone.
I was finally ready. Bring on the first day of school.
In the still of the morning, I heard the hum of a diesel engine over the chords of “Dare to be Stupid”. “This is it,” I straightened my shoulders and awaited my destiny.
As the bus rounded the corner, I knew something had to be wrong. Something had to be horribly, horribly wrong. Was this fate or God or just someone in the school district with a terrible sense of humor?
This was no ordinary bus. But there was no banner – there was no proclamation that there were geniuses on board. Before me was the short bus. A literal short bus. Replete with wheelchair ramp and handicapped symbols, normally used to transport the mentally disadvantaged and physically disabled, my chariot awaited.
The door squealed open. “Yer one of them smart kids, right?” The driver’s voice broke through the dark interior. I heard the sarcasm as it dripped from every inflection.
“Any recognition is better than none,” I thought to myself and boarded with a sigh.