When I was eight, my favorite pastime was making tortillas. I could peel 85 tomatillos in about five minutes, sometimes in just four and a half. I would stand on two stacked crates up front so I could make eye contact with adults as I rang up their order, carefully counting their change. My older brother would be a few feet behind me, making egg sandwiches. Through the back door would be my twin little sisters, decorating Sally. Sally was one of the five trees that had been planted in the industrial plaza. She became the babysitter of the twins, their best friend, their entertainer. I would bring my homework to an empty booth when I ran out of tortillas to make. Sometimes one of the twins would curl up on the booth facing me and fall asleep. Now, we did not spend time here because we had to, nor had we learned to appreciate the action of the kitchen. We often had to beg our parents to let us spend a Saturday morning there.
We were determined to spend time there as it was the only time we could see our dad. He worked 90 hours a week. When I was in elementary school, he left before I was awake and returned after I was asleep. The recession of 2008 was explained to me when my mom picked up a part time job as well. I was left to look after my sisters. Realistically, I was also looking after my older brother as he was endlessly finding new ways to get in trouble. I spent a lot of time on my own. I struggled to do my homework without any guidance. Being painfully shy, I was too afraid to ask questions in class. I’d find the answers in my own independent way. My brother did not share my motivation. The last homework assignment he did allowed him to end his sophomore year, dropping out at age 16. Around this time, I started actively tutoring my sisters. This helped me as much, if not more, than them.
Through my careful explanations of how to add and subtract, counting M&M’s on the table, and ignoring my own homework until I was certain they understood the task at hand, I saw myself reflected within them. They seemed to believe that no matter how hard they worked, it would go unrewarded. This was how I felt quite often in the beginning of high school. I knew I was putting in as much time as my peers, but I just couldn’t seem to understand all of the information.
I started to think that there was no way for me to thrive academically. Upon seeing that belief in my little sisters, I understood the importance of having a role model. For years, I watched my parents work tirelessly without any significant success. I had faith in my brother’s knowledge, but this could not take him beyond tenth grade. The idea of graduating college seemed as insurmountable as breaking a world record – only the very best could come close. I wanted to prove that it is possible for anyone who put in the effort.
I decided I would make a role model out of myself. Every challenge I was faced with intrigued me. I wanted to understand, not just get by. I stepped out of my comfort zone and asked question after question. I would seek extra help in the mornings. My grades did not immediately reflect my dedication, which only made me more determined. I began to appreciate and look forward to every test of knowledge and skill. This appreciation bled from academics to work, lacrosse, and ballet. I was on my toes, ready to try something new. Whenever I struggled, I reminded myself that it was not just a redundant task; its purpose was to strengthen me. When I didn’t find success, I embraced the feeling of disappointment. I knew I hated that feeling. If I felt it for any reason, I’d hang onto it for motivation for my next challenge. Graduating college started to look far more surmountable.
I haven’t made a tortilla since I was 12. My dad has stepped away from the culinary business. Our restaurant has been converted into a Subway. Sally still stands, but her decorations have long since been washed away. I, however, remain. I found a role model within myself with grades I could be proud of, a perfect and eye-opening trip around the globe, and a more positive outlook on my abilities. Now, I’m ready to try to break that world record I once deemed insurmountable. Dedication can, in fact, lead to indubitable success. I’m ready to prove this.
Julia Winrock is a student at CCV-Winooski. After graduating from Burlington High School in 2016, she took time off from school to travel. She is in the Liberal Studies program, with a specific interest in psychology, and wrote this essay for her summer 2017 Dimensions class.