Danny Herrera is a humorist who was born and raised in San Antonio, Texas. His essays have appeared in The SA Current, Neutrons Protons Literary Magazine and most recently, The Whistling Fire. He currently resides in New York City. You can read his weekly blog at: www.bydannyherrera.com
Gifted And Talented
“The word is comma,” the moderator said to me.
As I stood at the microphone and looked out at the sea of bored faces, I panicked. “Could you use that in a sentence?” I asked. This was the 2nd grade spelling bee at Stafford Elementary. Against my will, I was forced to participate by Ms. Rubios–my gifted and talented teacher. The GT program at Stafford was an exclusive curriculum program offered to students that teachers felt were ahead of their peers. Or the elite, as I thought of them. Through some terrible mistake, I was enrolled in the program on a short-term basis to see if I was really one of them. So the spelling bee was a make or break moment for me.
“The word is comma,” the moderator repeated. And with the upmost confidence I spelled, “C-O-M-A. Comma.” Incorrect. I realized that I had missed an “m” and had in fact spelled the word coma. Humiliated, I walked off the stage and wished at that moment that I would fall into a deep coma. I was never asked to participate in another spelling bee again and shortly after, I was thrown out of the GT program. “I’m not special,” I thought.
I was still determined to get into the gifted and talented program and was given a second chance in 5th grade. And again, I was enrolled on a short-term basis and then had to take a formal test to prove myself. This wasn’t a standard multiple choice test but rather multi-faceted as it was a combination of creative and intellectual questions. One of the questions asked you to draw something with a giant black dot that was in the middle of the page. I didn’t have any ideas and ended up drawing something really simple like a balloon. When I looked over at other student’s tests, I saw that they had drawn really creative things. For example, Heather had drawn a dog that faced the viewer and she turned the black dot into the dog’s nose. Heather ended up getting into the GT program and I was denied. You are average, I remember thinking. I was returned to the regular student body and forced to be among the savages. My last attempt at leaving a legacy came when I was asked to be in the school Christmas play.
I remember that was the Christmas where I wanted nothing more than the Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots toy game. The game featured two robots, one blue and one red, in a boxing ring. Each robot was controlled by a single person and the goal was to knock the head off the other robot with “steel-crunching hooks.” I was obsessed with this game and beyond that, I was obsessed with robots. My role in the play was to be one of three kids who get a visit from Santa. Upon arriving, Santa would ask each of us, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I only had one line. And yet, on the night of the play, I made a terrible mistake. Santa arrived and asked his question to the first two kids–each of whom responded, “I want to be a firefighter” and “I want to be a teacher.” Then Santa asked me the question and I froze; I forgot my line. I looked at my mother who was sitting in the first row and she had her hands in a prayer position; “Dear God, help him!” After a long silence, I responded, “I….want….to be…..a robot.” Everyone laughed. I’d never seen such a disappointed Santa in my life. I was never asked to be in another school play again and frankly I’m surprised they didn’t ban me from school altogether.
I spent the remainder of my childhood and adolescence being pretty average. I didn’t excel in sports, art or choir. It wasn’t until senior year in high school that another mistake was made and I was put in advanced placement classes. I applied myself and passed but when the time came to take the official test for college credit, I failed with flying colors. Despite this, my teacher Mr. Wenzlaff believed in me enough to encourage me to apply for college. Up until that point I hadn’t really thought about going to college.
So I took my teachers advice and went to a community college for a couple of years and ended up getting a scholarship to a university in the state of Iowa. My family threw a big going away party for me and everyone congratulated me and and told me how proud they were. I didn’t understand. I remember thinking, “Well, it’s not Harvard. It’s not that special.” And the significance of it all didn’t occur to me until I graduated. Initially, I hadn’t planned on walking the stage but my mother insisted and so I applied a week after the deadline. Fortunately, the university allowed me to.
A large chunk of my family drove up from Texas to see me walk the stage. When my name was called I heard my family scream and as I stood at the center of the stage in this massive sports arena, I thought about the significance of what I had achieved. My grandparents never finished high school and my parents never went to college. In fact, my grandparents were migrant farm workers as well as my parents for a period of time. We lived in several states including Florida and Michigan before settling down in Texas. And now, they were all witnessing the first generation college graduate of the family. It was a new frontier. And for a moment I felt really proud, I felt truly special.