Over the last four years, I have learned and changed gradually, and I cannot point to one moment which encapsulates everything I learned. However, here are few important turning points.
1. In the Spring of my sophormore year, I decided to take graduate math classes. I did not know what level of difficulty to expect. I don't remember how I first got the idea; it actually may have been one of my friends who suggested it. But once I heard it, I had essentially already decided I was going to do it. I went to talk with my professor to ask if it was a good idea; he said that it was hard, but some undergraduates had done well. Well, he said it was hard; it was a dare, and I had do it now! So I did.
That decision transformed me as a mathematician. It was when I decided to take a challenge and step it up a level. And I enjoyed the graduate math classes immensely.
2. At a another point in my sophomore year, I was taking an international studies class, which I found very difficult. I remember staying up several times until two in the morning to finish papers. And the papers were not very good either, I felt. That was one of the few times I was not able to keep up in a class I enjoyed and tried hard at. It made me learn that sometimes you just have to finish an assignment, even when you are running out of time and don't like the way your work is turning out.
3. At one point, I realized that I was continually late to class and did not care. This was shocking because I was such a perfect student in high school. I learned that being a good student requires continual effort.
4. When I visited the Monroe prison with a summer Honors class, my eyes were opened to social justice issues. I generally try to avoid politics because I do not know how to solve our nation’s problems, but when I saw how many people were wasting their lives in prison, I wanted to do something about it. The prison system is a testament to the failures of the men who are in there, yes, but also to the failure of our society to educate, mentor, and care about them. A fraction of them want to improve their lives and overcome their past, but we give them no opportunity to take college courses in prison, and very little opportunity to learn. That is something that needs to change, and I am trying to help in small ways through the HOPE club on campus. I hope to tutor or teach in prison someday.
The moment in the prison was special because it gave me a passion and a call to make a difference in society, not merely sit around with my books thinking about math.