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How to Succeed by Failing

Photo by Kylie Miller.

I had to fail to succeed in college. 

This year on June 12, I will graduate in the Greek Amphitheater at Point Loma Nazarene University. But, I had a long journey to get there. 

My high school graduation was not an eventful one. At the time, education was not a priority to me and my carelessness affected my grades. Though my report cards were nothing to brag about and my SAT scores were somewhat decent, I applied to several colleges. Shockingly, I was accepted into each university except PLNU. So, I chose to travel north and secure an acceptance letter from San Francisco State University. 

I planned to attend university that fall semester in 2017. Then, finals week happened. 

Math has never been my favorite subject. Decimals, percentages and letters mixing with numbers have always been my worst nightmare. The final for my senior Algebra 2 math class knocked my grade down enough to hold me back from attending university after graduating high school. 

I failed the class by one point. 

My high school advisors and SFSU made a deal with me. I could graduate with my senior class and attend university that fall semester only if I retook the course and passed. With no other options, I willingly accepted their bargain. 

Plans were made for me to attend a charter school nearby as I prepared to attend a graduation ceremony I felt I did not deserve to participate in. I felt like an imposter when I wore my high school’s graduation regalia. It mocked me as I attended the graduation ceremony wearing it, knowing I was accepting my diploma with one point missing from my Algebra 2 course.  

It was one of the worst experiences of my life. 

As I sat with my fellow classmates at my graduation ceremony, I thought of all I could have done better — possibly studied a bit harder for a quiz or two, raised my hand to ask a question in class or cared a bit more. I thought of every possible factor that could have gotten me that one point, but it was too late. I walked across the graduation stage accepting my diploma and immediately went home to prepare myself for battle with my worst enemy: Algebra 2. 

Charter school was quite the experience. Students studying that summer at the specific charter school in Dana Point would attend several days a week to be around teachers and work in a “classroom” environment. In between days where class was in person, we learned remotely through online courses. These online seminars provide classes with modules for students to learn and practice their area of study by taking quizzes at the end of each lecture. 

The independent study school didn’t have “classrooms.” Instead, they had tables to represent the different grades of students attending the institution. Seniors were placed in the back of the room, and I remember feeling some relief knowing I wasn’t the only student sitting at the back table. 

After experiencing such a low moment in my life, I forced myself to work hard so I wouldn’t have to deal with such disappointment again. 

I began studying for math for the first time by taking detailed notes that helped simplify the information being lectured so I could understand it in my own way. I began asking every question that sprouted in my head no matter how obvious it might have sounded. I studied how I needed to and the results were rewarding. 

The first exam I took that summer at the charter school, I received a 100%. I remember asking the grade proctor to check the exam again because I thought he was joking. 

The second exam, I received another A. The third exam, I received a low 80. That third exam mentally brought me back to sitting at my high school graduation ceremony feeling like a failure. 

I returned back to the mindset due to how disappointed I was that I received a low grade after seeing successful results during the first half of the independent study course. I witnessed that I could do better, so to not see it for the third exam was devastating. Mentally, I was reminding myself I wasn’t smart, that I was a failure and I couldn’t amount to anything. 

When I returned home the day I received the grade for my third exam, my parents decided to surprise me by celebrating my graduation from high school. They got a cake designed in purple and yellow icing to represent SFSU’s school colors, and a balloon that read in big letters “You’re doing great!” 

I immediately broke down crying. It is hilarious to think about now. But, I truly felt so loved and happy to know I had people believing in me after so many years of feeling forgotten in academics. 

That summer in 2017, I learned how to be my own teammate. When my family drove me to San Francisco to help me move into my freshmen college dormitory, I knew all the work I put into my schoolwork and myself was worth it. 

School is difficult. It is even harder when one doesn’t have the support they need to push themself to complete the work necessary for their area of study. I had my own barriers that kept me back from becoming the successful student I am today. Instead of believing in myself and the skills I have, I believed in others’ opinions that I couldn’t do anything. 

When you find the elements that make you amazing, it is a liberating experience. 

There is a reason why we are all so different. Not everyone is capable of listening to a lecture and immediately grasp the concept their professor just talked about for an hour. Not every student can learn over a computer screen. Sometimes, studying the class notes from presentation slides isn’t enough for some to pass an exam. 

We all have different achievements to pursue in life. 

I took the talents I learned from the summer of 2017 with me into college because they work the best for me. They helped me transfer in the spring semester of 2019 to PLNU with a scholarship for my grades. They took me abroad to study in London and earn a place on the Dean’s List every semester. 

When you see me on graduation day at the Greek Amphitheater, I’ll be dressed in my cap and gown, my green and yellow stole and golden cords that represent my academic achievements throughout my four years of college. I’ll be thanking President Bob Brower in person for granting me my Academic Honors award and most importantly graduating undergraduate university with a B.A. in multimedia journalism. 

It won’t be the last graduation ceremony I will attend for myself. 

For someone who loathed attending school for about 18 years, from kindergarten to senior year of high school, I find it ironic that it was my idea to attend graduate school. But, I knew I could do it. I also knew they would accept me, I just had that knowing, inner feeling. 

I will be attending graduate school in Savannah, Ga. this August. The Savannah College of Art and Design is ranked on the Business of Fashion’s list as one of the top fashion business management schools in the world. I will earn my M.F.A. in luxury and fashion management from this highly-renowned program. 

Things don’t work out how you may want sometimes, that’s life. But if I know math like I think I do, then I can promise everyone is capable of more than one chance at finding success. 

If failure was impossible, then success would be improbable because growth would never happen. Allow yourself to grow and know mistakes are inevitable. 

Give yourself a chance. Besides, no human is supposed to be perfect. 

By: Kylie Miller