Since everybody has kept on telling me that you cannot beat the system, and that you have to play their game, they own this place... and always remember, the deck is stacked against you, I will now tell you something.
I will tell you a story.
It's a good one. It's a true one. It happened to me, and I have only recently begun to talk about it, whereas for most of my life I have not mentioned it, not in its entirety, every now and then I would mention a little detail, but even to friends, I never told them what really happened, and there is only my closest friend who knows the majority of it, because he was there, at least for some of those things.
When I was 5, I got diagnosed with an IQ of 186. And when I say diagnosed, I do mean that I consider that to be almost an illness. Oh, those high potentials! They get diagnosed, and then, what do they do? Not really much of anything. They essentially threw me out of kindergarten a year early, and into primary school (not funny for me). And that was about it. No longer the kindergarten's problem, off you go, swim with the other ducklings!
I liked school, though. I liked learning. I liked knowing stuff. I always did.
Now, after four years of primary school over here, you had to choose between three different types of advanced schools. The first one, called gymnasium will lead you up to the 13th grade and a degree that is somewhat comparable to that of an American Community College (as much as you can compare these things, cultural comparisons are always a bit tricky). It is also the only degree that allows you to go to university and study.
Now, I was the best in my school, fact is, I was the best pupil who had ever attended the school (and no, this is not boasting, god, I am so smart, and you will see why a bit later), so both the principal of the primary school and my parents wanted me to go to the Gymnasium.
The gymnasium refused. See, I came from the wrong tracks of town, and I do mean that quite literally. My family was piss poor at the time, my father was working three jobs and my mother was working two, and we were still not being able to make ends meet. My parents are good people, and my sister and me never felt the poverty, my parents were too good to hide it from us, but every now and then, when they thought I couldn't see, when they thought they were alone, I could see it in their faces. That pressure that makes you age inside and that chips away at you.
The Gymnasium told me parents that "a child from this background cannot possibly fit in with the types of students attending our school". I was 9. Try being told that at the age of 9. My parents asked me if I still wanted to pursue this, and I said "yes".
And for the next two years the teachers mobbed and bullied the living hell out of me. Not only the teachers, the other students as well. There wasn't a day when I wasn't vomiting up my breakfast just at the thought of going there again. One year in, my grades were at an D- average, and I was suicidal. I tried to be good, I tried to somehow get them to like me, but it was useless.
If you want to know why almost every high potential doesn't live up to it? This would be the reason. The system breaks them. The system doesn't like them. The system never did.
I even started doing the homework for other kids, just so that I had the feeling I fit in there. Stupid? Oh yes, but I was desperate. So desperate. Please, like me! See, I'm good! I can play with you! I even brought my own toys!
The same homework I wrote got those kids As and Bs, got me Cs and Ds. Interesting how that goes, isn't it? Remember, boys and girls, what I told you about fairness? That it is the rallying cry of the powerless? Now, was this fair? Of course not. But I didn't get it. I didn't understand it. I didn't understand that nothing I did could overcome how they saw me. How they saw where I came from.
And so, two days after my 12th birthday I stood on an abandoned railroad bridge, and I still remember very clearly how easy it would be. Just one step, a bit of wind in your face and then maybe some pain and then nothing, and I would never have to face these people again.
I didn't do it that day. I thought about how it would make my parents feel, and I didn't do it that day. But I stood there the next day. And the next day. And the next day. And the day after that. For almost a month, I stood there. Every afternoon.
And then, one day at school, I got called in by the principal. Do you remember what I told you about closed doors, boys and girls? Nothing good happens behind them, and this was certainly not the exception. He told me, no, he rather nicely suggested to me, the way these people suggest these things, that "it is clear to me how much more happy you would be among your own kind, your own people, Thomas."
My own kind. My own people.
I felt like I had been punched. My own kind. My own people.
And I was cold. I was shivering. And something in my stomach didn't feel right. It felt like it had shrunk by about three sizes, and I felt bile at the back of my throat, and I felt like crying. And I closed my eyes, and I told myself that I was not going to cry. Not here. Not now.
And when I opened my eyes again, I managed to meet his look. And it was difficult. But I managed to meet his look. Something inside me was cold. And it was old. It was so much older than it should have been.
And in a voice that wasn't my own, I told him.
"I'm going to beat you," I said. "You will not break me. This will not break me. I will beat you."
"...shut your fucking mouth," I said. "I don't give a fuck about what you think about me. What you all think about me. Not anymore. You know what your mistake was? You shouldn't have said it. You shouldn't have said it out loud. You want a fight? I will give you a fight you have never seen before. I. Will. Beat You. You hearing me? I will take any abuse, any mobbing, any bullying you will give me. I will beat you. And more than that, I will graduate this piece of shit of a place not just top of my class, I will graduate with a grade point of average that this school has never seen before. I will beat you."
"Somebody like you?" he said. "You would have to be ten times better than the next student."
"Then I will be."
I grew up that day. I hardened that day. And no, he wasn't kidding. I knew that. I knew that each of my papers, each of the things I did had to be unassailable. And so I fought my high school years like a war. I didn't make mistakes. I couldn't afford to make mistakes. And so each study, each paper, each class... I had to come in knowing more than my teachers did, and for years I buried myself in the town's public library, I studied the books that were on university level, I had to be able – in every class – to outsmart the very people who had my fate in their hands.
And oh yes, they still hated me, and the other students really hated me, but more than that, they started to fear me, because they could see me cutting their teachers to pieces when it came to arguing, because I read more than they ever did, I found the latest studies, the latest books on any given subject, and I would arm myself for every day.
It wasn't easy. It didn't happen quickly. But it did happen. I started to beat them at their own game. A few teachers started to respect me, most of them started to fear me, because I was able to humiliate them, and in most classes, after a while, I wasn't even called upon anymore to get an A, just so I wouldn't speak up. I still learned more.
Never be lazy. Never let your guard down.
I stopped doing the homework for the other kids.
It pissed them off to no end.
"I will fail the class if you don't help me," one of them said one day.
"Well," I replied, "maybe you should have learned yourself instead of simply leeching off me for years."
I could hear them in the hallways, when they talked about me.
"What an arrogant son of a bitch," they said behind my back. "Who does he think he is?"
And one time, only one time they tried to beat me. Couldn't do it on an intellectual level, but hey, fists always work, don't they? I got shoved through a window, and when I tried to stop it, my hand went all the way through, and the shards cut through my wrist, all the way to the bone, and all the way through the bone of my index finger. I still have those scars. And on bad days, even now, there is a tremor in the hand that will never go away.
And so I stood there, and blood was gushing from my mutilated hand, and class, it isn't like in the movies, there is nothing morbidly beautiful about it. It hurts. It hurts like hell. And I was angry. Not at them. At myself. You should have seen this coming! Stupid! You should have prepared for this possibility! My entire hand was wet and red and the blood was gathering in a puddle on the floor...
... and for one moment they were afraid. Maybe because they hadn't anticipated what was going to happen, but I stood there and again, I felt an enormous calm coming over me. The teachers hadn't tried to stop them, fact is, they stood there just as the students who attacked me did, and I said to the closest one, in a very quiet voice...
"The next time anyone of you tries to beat me up, I will kill you. I will kill you with my bare hands."
And I meant it. They could hear it. I meant it. I wasn't screaming. I wasn't shouting. I was stating a fact. Nobody ever tried to shove me through anything again. Fact is, nobody ever tried to beat me up again.
And at the end of school, I did graduate with the highest grade point average ever given in this school, and of course there was the graduation ceremony, which – just like in America – all of your family attends, and there were speeches and funny things, and when they called up each student, there was a baby photo of them projected behind them on the wall...
... and when I came up there, the best they could do was to exchange my baby photo with a photo of a pig. And booing me. Yes, that was their grand revenge. It hurt my parents, seeing that, because they were so proud of me, the first one in our family with a degree that could bring him to university, but I stood on the stage, looked at that photo of the pig and thought to myself, this is the best you can do?
And then I said it out loud, to the students, and to their parents from our town's upper class, who booed me. Oh, and did they ever.
"This?" I said. "This is this the best you can do? This is pathetic."
And then my principal gave me my degree, and he told me that "I had always known that you would exceed all expectations."
And I looked at him, and it took every ounce of my strength to not beat him to death. And by this time I had trained myself. I could have done it. It would have been easy. But with training comes discipline. And with discipline comes awareness. Be polite. Don't kill anybody. remember, boys and girls? Be polite. Don't ever be the first one to strike.
I just pulled close to him and whispered, "I told you I would beat you, you fucking prick."
And so, to everyone who tells me that you cannot beat the system, and that you have to play their game, they own this place... and always remember, the deck is stacked against you, I will now tell you something.
You've no idea who I am.
You've no idea what I am. And what I am capable of. And how far I am willing to go. All you've met was that kid from the wrong sides of the track, desperately asking to please, like me! See, I'm good! I can play with you! I even brought my own toys!
You've never met me.
I'm nothing like you.
And I will beat you.