I’m back at my parent’s house in Kent this week, and my first task was to clean out the obnoxious amount of storage boxes I had in their attic. I have a tendency to store ‘memories’, with the consequence of having twice as many boxes as my two sisters combined. The benefit of this, though, is that when going through my stuff I find wonderful tit-bits that remind me what my life was like in the years passed.
Today, I came across an old school report from 2006. Reading this (see pictures below), it is extraordinary that I would be where I am now. At that time, there was absolutely no indication that I’d even get into university – let alone that 10 years later I would be doing my third degree at Oxford after getting firsts in my BA and Msc. I was a troubled teenager suffering with long-term illnesses that had, unsurprisingly, a detrimental effect on my school work. Back then, the pressure was just to pass my exams in the core of English, Maths, and Science. I did manage to scrape through, just about. In fact, it was psychology that gave me the impetus to do this. Around the time of this report, I had realised that I really wanted to study psychology. I faced a problem, though: for my school to allow me to study psychology for my A-Levels, I needed to get good grades. For the first time, I think, I actually had a strong internal motivation to study, and spent months (ineffectively, as it turns out) staring at my science and maths books trying to make sense of it all.
In the end I did pass, and was able to study psychology (with Philosophy / Ethics and English Literature) at my A-Levels. To my surprise – and to everyone else’ – I actually excelled in this. I had discovered subjects that I really loved, and where studying wasn’t a chore but was actually fun. I did well in these subjects. In fact, at the risk of sounding boastful, I did really well. This was despite the fact that during my final year of high school I became very ill and had to spend months out of school while I was in and out of hospital. Indeed, despite the illness and previous bad grades, when my final results came through I discovered I had achieved 100% marks in half of my modules in English Literature and Philosophy / Ethics, and the school ‘Psychology Prize’ for my grades in psychology. Saying I was surprised would be an understatement.
After this academic U-turn, a few teachers suggested that I should apply to Oxford. My parents were excited, because no-one in my family had previously gone to university. My heart (at the time) was actually set on going to UCL to study Scandinavian Studies, but I applied to Oxford still on the off-chance. Needless to say – astoundingly – my interviewers saw some potential in me and offered me a place just before Christmas of 2008. A week later, on January 1st 2009, I embarked on my mega-trip where I travelled completely overland by train from London to Thailand. I’m pretty certain that no-one saw that coming. Things had certainly turned around a lot in two years.
I suppose the point of this reflection is to highlight that it was never certain – or even likely – that I’d end up going to Oxford. My life could easily have continued on the track of scraping through my studies and then job with minimal effort. That this all changed just because I discovered my academic passion and had the support of some amazing teachers and friends never ceases to amaze me. And I think that I am a good example of why we should encourage children’s potential throughout their studies. Some people really are late bloomers, and that doesn’t mean they are better or worse students in the long-term. People took a chance on me, and I know that if I ever can, I’ll do the same to some other future-me.