I would like to personally thank the American education system for so heavily promoting the ideology that being smart means out-performing your peers on exams and timed essays. To be smart in school means to be the best– to compare yourself to others and make sure you are doing better than everyone sitting around you. The way to do so? Take tests. That's it. This twisted system inflicts a black and white perspective on life– either you are smart or you're not. Or, you are good at writing but bad at math. You have no other creative outlet.


This way of thinking caused me to believe that nothing came naturally to me, and that if I wanted to get an A on something I would have to work ten times harder than the “smart” students. I found it really tough to perform well on tests because I feared being misunderstood by my teachers and peers as less intelligent.


When discussing this problem I have had in the past with others now, they usually respond with, “well you go to USC, you must have been somewhat smart!” And to respond to that, yes it was smart of me to write the most raw and unfiltered essay I could fathom to prove to them that there is more to me than my SAT score. I had good grades like everyone else applying to USC, but I knew the essay and short answer questions were my opportunity to show the version of myself that widens the idea of a smart student.


The first two years of college, I definitely felt like an imposter surrounded by those who appeared to be much smarter than me. I felt like I wasn’t able to show up as the intelligent student who was accepted into this university to begin with. But earlier this semester I began to redefine what I perceived as smart. I am doing well in my classes at a renowned university, have amazing friends, and I am happy doing the things that I love; maybe I am smart. Maybe I should be proud of myself. That feeling initially felt overwhelmingly narcissistic and selfish. I was embarrassed to even think I was smart, because as a member of Generation Z, it is quite easy to default to degrading oneself. But, separating the embarrassment of being portrayed as a narcissist and instead just feeling internally proud of myself for being a smart individual changed my life. This stemmed into genuine confidence in myself, opening many doors.


I wasn’t faking life as much as I thought I was. There are things that come naturally to me, and there are things I am good at! And if not, I have the ability to become good at what needs improvement! I don’t have to be eternally bad at math just because 4 years ago in a math class I struggled with the content. I can be smart! Because I am!


The idea of choosing to be smart has brought me endless opportunities. Maybe it was just placebo and I am not as smart as I tend to think, but placebo is one of life's most powerful enigmas. I encourage everyone I meet to redefine what smart and successful means to them, and envision how they could be that version of smart or identify what traits already resonate with that version of smart.