Building Robots, Breaking Barriers

The lessons we take from failure can be fundamental to later success. Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?

I looked down at the robot before me. I had spent weeks and weeks programming and building it, putting in countless hours of concentration. Then I looked up at my robotics teacher, excitedly, as he tested it himself — and it worked perfectly. The robot moved as the camera identified the colors correctly and gave the proper responses. I was thrilled. Then, his attention moved from the robot over to my partner sitting next to me. He had hardly helped at all with the project, and when I had talked to the teacher about him, I was shrugged away. My teacher extended his arm for a handshake and told him, “My, what an excellent job you have done.”

Needless to say, I was furious. This wasn’t the first time that my teacher had belittled my efforts in the class – “Robotics is not for girls, sweetheart,” he had directly told me – but it was the final project of the class and my eighth grade heart was so excited about it. Even worse was at the end of the year, when the technology department – headed by the same teacher – gave its Student of the Year award to my male partner, who was credited for my efforts that somehow were not mine because of my gender.

I immediately went to the school board, writing a letter explaining my predicament- the effort I had put in, the sexism I had faced, the recognition I was robbed of. I poured myself out onto that paper, and then waited weeks for a response. I was certain that they would have applauded me for standing up and persevering. Finally, when it came, I tore open the envelope with enthusiasm, and saw their response. As I read it, my attitude turned from excited to confused, and then to discouraged. They had not seen a problem and had not wanted to pursue it. “Mr. E is a good individual,” it read. “Perhaps you simply misunderstood him.”

That day, I was forced to realize an uncomfortable fate. As a queer girl from a low income family, I was going to face discrimination no matter where I went in life. It was an inevitable fact. As much as I could try to ignore it with hopeless optimism, I wouldn’t be able to fix it all. I realized that I was just going to have to try harder throughout my life to surpass discrimination.

However, acceptance of discrimination does not mean that we can stop fighting for equal treatment. If anything, this event has inspired me to push harder. I picked up a pen and paper and started writing about discrimination in my own community. I started conversations about the role that inequality has in our schools. I kept going, and I am very grateful that I had. Quite simply, we have a long road ahead of us before we can ensure equality, but this road can still be travelled. We need to keep trying harder. We need to keep pushing discrimination. We need to tell young girls to keep building robots.

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