While attending a public-school deemed a “School of Excellence,” I was initially identified as gifted in the third-grade. After scoring in the 99th percentile on the Iowa Test of Basic Skills (ITBS), which is a national standardized test, I was referred for gifted testing and subsequently placed in the gifted program at my school. I was the only Black student in the program, and always felt as if I did not quite belong in the program. Being “smart” came naturally for me, and it was something my parents, teachers, and even I recognized at a young age; however, being in this environment was a bit intimidating and created feelings of competition, a fear of failure, and a desire to be perfect.
As a child of poor immigrants from rural Philippines, I often heard about how my parents grew up without running water and limited electricity. They told my brothers and me stories about the things that they didn’t have while growing up, and how they overcame traumas of war and poverty. These anecdotes made me feel equally grateful and guilty, while also motivating me to strive for success. In fact, it is through these stories that I learned the importance of attaining a college education as a way of fulfilling our parents’ American dreams and somehow compensating for the historical trauma that my family had overcome for centuries.