I recently found out that the gym classes at my specialized high school are dubbed “Honors” Gym Classes. We wear the same rancid smelling, never-been-washed pinnies to play the same emotionally scarring games of dodgeball as every other high school in America, but we are still Officially Better Than You and we’ve got the Official Transcripts to prove it.
I mean, Honors Gym? I am basically an NFL athlete, minus the problematic allegations and the multimillion dollar salary! My very sweat is smarter than yours!
And years from now, whenever faced with the glad tidings of my peers’ accomplishments, I will have but one response: OK — but were you in Honors Gym? They will be confused. But then again, the common people often are.
Earlier this week my school had its annual entrance examination. Over two thousand preteens and their parents circled around our block and waited for the double doors of Wisdom to open. In especially cold weather, the scene may resemble a Depression-era soup kitchen line.
On the bright side, the .07% of students who are accepted will soon be rewarded with Honors Gym and similar distinguish-ments. The others will struggle to come to terms with their perceived stupidity. The proctors will find other work, the administrators will collect $100,000+ in exam fees, and the student volunteers probably still won’t have enough service credit to impress colleges.
Am I exaggerating? Not at all.
Am I ungrateful? Possibly.
To be fair, I’ve always felt a little bit like an outsider. First of all, the aforementioned .07% will consist almost entirely of White and Asian students. There might be one hijabi in the incoming class, and when I pass her in the third floor hallway months later I will smile and greet her because I know her already, I know her and the long sleeves she will wear in gym class and the role she will play during the “Islam Unit” and the role she will play always and the questions she will have to answer and the teachers that will always, always mistake her for me.
Second of all — and I am slightly ashamed to admit this — I only took the entrance exam because my mother bribed me. I knew nothing about my school at the time. My entire specialized high school experience is the product of an ill-conceived desire, many years ago, for a pair of Kenneth Cole ballet flats.
Do I regret it? I honestly don’t know. I haven’t sampled the Unspecial life.
Can I still be bribed with a good pair of shoes? Absolutely.
I think that a majority of both the Gifted and the Ordinary can agree upon the general unpleasantness of gym class. In fact, up until this semester, I have maintained a long-held and well-justified hatred of all things PE related.
(Do basketballs care about the fact that I have other non-fitness related marketable skills? Do hockey sticks duly take my religious/ethnic minority status into consideration before they start hacking dents into my shins? Do I ever have enough time before class to change into: socks, sneakers, baggy sweatpants, a shirt I accidentally stole from some girl at camp, two Nike “maximum support” sports bras, and a gray bedazzled headscarf? Uh, no.)
As it turns out, gym class-induced misery is a welcome relief from SAT/ACT/GPA-induced misery; from the cutthroat, number-driven madness that is my school; from the fact that once again I find myself standing in an endless file to gain acceptance into a selective institution. And this time, there’s more on the line than a pair of shoes. Or so I’m told.
Despite it all, my gym class remains completely average. Every week I can anticipate arguing about what the team name should be, dismally failing Insert Grudgingly Decided Team Name, and shielding my face from both flying sports equipment and tremendous shame.
You could say that gym class is my rock.
It can even break (albeit temporarily) the most unbearable of egos. During the period, my classmates and I suddenly don’t look like the city’s Most Gifted. We look like a group of teenagers who will definitely smell bad if approached.
In a few short months, the .07 % that I have come to know — my graduating class — will disperse. In other words, we will get our college decisions back. There will be the Accepted and the Rejected, the “Winners” and the “Losers” — as simple and irrevocable as picking teams — and I’m not sure I want to be there when it happens. Some of us will realize that a) maybe we’re not so special anymore, and b) there is something wrong with our nation’s increasingly competitive and racially stratified two-track academic system.
The Rejected will eventually recover from their perceived stupidity, the administrators of each respective school will collect hundreds of thousands of dollars in admissions fees, and high school students nationwide will continue to search — achingly — for easy community service hours.
Perhaps the only lingering reminder of my specialized high school experience will be the lone hijabi younger termers who, long after I leave, will continue to be called by my name.