2021 Scholarship Recipient

According to National Geographic, elephants are among some of the most intelligent animals on this Earth. However, this fact certainly is not the reason everyone calls me an elephant. Their intentions are directed more towards my ears.

Throughout my life, I have been told I have big ears. I’m pretty sure when my mom asked her doctor if I was a boy or girl, he said I was an ear. When I was a child, every person I talked to would point out the giant billboards on the sides of my head. My nickname to many became Dumbo, you know, the cute little Disney elephant whose ears are bigger than himself. I was being pointed out for my big ears so often that I became desensitized to it all. I was allowing people to call me an elephant, without letting them know the impact they could have on me.

Everything changed when I entered fourth grade. It was the day of parent-teacher conferences, and I decided not to go with my mom to the school. I waited eagerly for her to come home because I wanted to know what my teachers had to say about me. Hours later, she walked into the house and sat me down in the kitchen. She looked at me with so much pride while telling me what each teacher had said about me. The last teacher she got to was my math teacher. “He shared your evaluation exam with me that was given to all the students to determine their math level, and told me you were doing high school algebra,” she explained. “He said you were extremely bright and as smart as an elephant.”

I had always loved math, but when I was told I was excelling in the subject, my passion for math began. I realized that math was something I truly enjoyed and would continue for the rest of my life. Furthermore, something else happened at that moment besides me realizing my love for math; my fourth-grade teacher changed the meaning of the word elephant. My whole life, I viewed elephants as just a way to make fun of me, but now, elephants would represent intelligence, courage, and passion. My teacher calling me intelligent was the start of my growth journey, working hard, and finding confidence.

The more I heard people call me an elephant, the more I started to enjoy it. In middle school, when people called me an elephant, I would respond to them with the first sentence written in this essay. As I gained maturity, my response became something different. I would tell them that my ears were how I was made and that they made me beautiful. My confidence started to grow as a result of this, and I started to appreciate my ears, and in turn, appreciate and love myself.

My love for myself allowed me to explore my passions and find myself. My fourth-grade teacher started my proclivity for math and helped me realize this was my future. The ideas of problem-solving, using critical thinking, and working hard were being developed by math, and then being shown in my real life. I knew from a very young age that my college major and future career would have something to do with math because I had a genuine connection to it.

The absolute value of a negative number will always be positive. Although this is just a math statement, this is a philosophy to me that in life, you can always turn a negative into a positive if you have strong values. The idea of elephants was negative, but through a redefined meaning, it became a positive that changed my life. I am an elephant, not because my ears are big, but because I am a strong, intelligent, hard-working person, and that’s what’s most important.

Phillip Mathangani Foundation, a 501(c)(3) non-profit.
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