How my teachers opened a path for me to succeed in math and life
I credit my elementary teachers in Saskatoon for setting me on the path to Harvard university
This First Person article is written by Haozhe Yang, a Grade 12 student who lives in Saskatoon. For more information about First Person stories, see the FAQ.
Mathematics has always been like a flower to me. It slowly unfurls its petals and reveals its secrets, allowing me to find the hidden connections between different areas like geometry and algebra. The joy and satisfaction I find in math is a gift that my teachers have helped me to cultivate.
When I moved to Saskatoon from China five years ago, it was my Grade 7 teacher, Mr. Catton who recognized my talent and lobbied for me to attend math classes at the local high school. My elementary school principal, Mrs. Herron, even drove me to the high school every day for five months because my parents did not have drivers' licenses.
As time went on, my parents felt I needed to pursue mathematics study at a higher level, and decided we should move to Toronto.
"We know it is hard, but you have to realize that Toronto will give you many more opportunities than this small town," my parents had told me, and I knew they were right. But would I disappoint Mrs. Herron by telling her I would leave Saskatoon?
"What should I do? How should I tell her the news?' I wondered out loud as I walked to the parking lot, kicking the gravel along the sidewalk. The air was hot, dry, and suffocating, with occasional breezes that lifted dust from the sun-dried soil.
When Mrs. Herron saw me waving to her, a smile lit up her face. I threw myself into the car, and since I was unsure what to say after a brief greeting, and an awkward silence ensued.
Noticing that I was not in a good mood, she asked, "Haozhe, what happened? Sad for your last math class this semester?"
"Not really, the class was good," I said, shaking my head. After a long pause, I continued reluctantly.
"Mrs. Herron, thank you for driving me this semester. I truly appreciate what you have done for me. But..." I hesitated. "I will not be here next semester. My parents think I will get a better education in Toronto and plan to move there over the summer."
I avoided looking at her and murmured, "After I move to Toronto, I will miss you and my friends."
Without hesitation, she responded positively.
"Congratulations! Toronto is a great city. I am sure you will have a great time there!"
I thanked her, but neither of us knew what to say next. After a long silence, a gust of wind whipped dust across the window of her car. She told me she had been excited for me to get an opportunity to study math at the best high school, and that I had set a great example for the other students.
"It is such a pity that you have to leave now. I was thinking of asking you to revive our math club."
With a sigh, Mrs. Herron stopped talking. I gazed out the window into the featureless field. I never noticed it had turned into a wave of green in only four months, after a long winter.
I was reminded that Saskatchewan is a province of extremes — one where people live through cold winters and powerful winds that blows the topsoil off of fields. Despite the conditions they face, farmers here pour in efforts to their fields to produce fine wheat — just as my teachers had poured their efforts into helping me.
Mrs. Herron and other teachers had uncovered my talents in math and helped me thrive in school. How could I fly away like a dandelion seed? Maybe I should set my roots here like wheat.
I took Mrs. Herron's words to heart.
After my parents decided we would stay in Saskatoon, I launched a weekly prairie math league at my elementary school. The club started off with a small group of students, but it has since grown to a flourishing math community of more than 1,000 registered students.
This winter, after I gained admission to study mathematics at Harvard University, I decided there was someone with whom I needed to share this news.
When I first entered my old elementary school, a brief flash of uneasiness crossed my mind: what if Mrs. Herron could not recognize me? But she recognized me as soon as she laid her eyes on me, and she looked overjoyed and shocked when I told her the fantastic news.
Math may be my passion, but it is my teachers that planted the seed for it — and me — to grow.
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