Journey into Neverland

Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?

The first thing I learned in sophomore-year chemistry is that when two atoms or molecules hit each other with enough force while oriented in the correct manner, magic can happen. Well, “magic” isn’t exactly the word that the textbook uses, but that’s basically what it is. Two particles can come together in such a way that they form bonds and create an entirely new compound that may not outwardly resemble the two component substances. They become something new and often unexpected.

When I began high school, I didn’t really fit in anywhere. I was just one atom drifting around, looking to be part of something greater. However, it’s basic chemistry knowledge that not just any two particles can bond together. Two lithium ions bonding together? Absolutely ridiculous. The components have to be a good fit, and I tried to find the right fit for me in many different groups: the jocks, the musicians, and even the popular kids. In all my searching, there was one thing that I knew for sure: I would NOT be a nerd. Nerds, to me, were people who called themselves “Mathletes” and sat around playing with their calculators on Friday nights while everyone else was at the football game. If high school was the afterlife, a nerdy reputation was the ninth circle of hell, and I would not be found there in a million years.

The next year, I became a nerd.

That fateful day in chemistry began just like any other day. We checked our homework and continued to learn about Avogadro’s number and the mole (which would become a close companion of mine the next year in AP Chemistry). Before we left, my teacher made a quick announcement that anyone interested in Science Olympiad should see him. I brushed it off; I wanted nothing to do with Science Olympiad. As the bell rang, my friends and I started off to our lockers, but my teacher held me back. He told me that I should seriously consider joining the team because he thought that I would enjoy it. I was caught off guard, and somehow in a jumble of words that came afterwards, I told him that I would check it out. I’m still not sure if I meant to say that, or if I just felt bad simply saying “no,” but true to my word I showed up for the first meeting. I expected to leave before anyone could see me, but I discovered something that I never could have imagined would be there: a bond.

Weakly at first, but stronger with time, a bond formed between me, the self-proclaimed “anti-nerd,” and a whole group of people I had previously believed to be dorks. I started to attend meetings regularly, and a few months later, I competed in my first tournament. I was doing things that I would have ridiculed two months before. I was chatting with my teammates about electrodynamics before I headed to my event about circuits, all while wearing the official team hoodie, branded with the chemical symbols for boron, hydrogen, and sulfur, spelling out my school’s initials. The craziest thing of all was that I was enjoying every minute of it.

After all my effort in avoiding academics outside of the classroom, I had made a conscious decision to volunteer my free time to join a science team. I studied outside of my school assignments to compete in scientific tournaments, sometimes even skipping football games to do so. It was a complete turnaround; my parents probably thought I needed psychiatric help. In reality, though, my chemistry teacher had given me a push, a reorientation, that lined me up to find exactly what I had needed. I created a bond with Science Olympiad, and – alakazam! – a whole new Julia was formed.

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