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Edward Serfontein
 
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Grade 12'ers

07 January 2014, 19:35

This article is quite lengthy but I want to give advice to especially the youngsters and I need to firstly prove you can take my word for it. That the advise I'm trying to pass on is born of experience. To prove my integrity, I’ll have to tell you where I come from and who I was.

I attended high school at a local public school. Thanks to my two older sisters, I was a little popular amongst the teachers. The first few days when I introduced myself to a teacher, I always got the same response: “Serfontein? . . . Is jy Natalie en Natasha se broertjie? Ek hoop jy is so hardwerkend soos jou sisters.” (“Serfontein? . . . Are you Natalie and Natasha’s little brother? I hope you are as hard-working as they are.) They would soon learn that I wasn’t.

To start with, I had all the wrong kind of friends. One of my closest was a boy we called, “Bibby”. Bibby was well-known in our township because one of his brothers played rugby for the All Blacks and the others were infamous gang-members. Bibby convinced me to sell cigarettes to the seniors with him. I always carried the stock with me because I was the least suspect (as far as the teachers were concerned). I didn't mind because I scored brown points with the seniors.

When I wasn’t with Bibby, I was twin brothers who I attended primary school with. Unfortunately, they had the same gangster mentality most teenagers pick up on growing up at “The Flats”. When I was with the twins, I always found myself unwillingly involved in a gang fight. Back then, school was an unpleasant place to be. You can at any minute expect a half-brick to fly pass your head. Despite my parents raising me properly, my friends’ influence took over me, and before long, I was sitting in the principal’s office much too often.

After finishing grade 9, my parents finally decided to send me to a private school. This was after I had a fall out with the Accounting teacher. It was a stupid argument that ended with her saying: “Gaan net uit my klas uit! En jy sit nie wee ‘n voet hie nie!” (Just get out of my class! And don’t set one foot here anymore!)

So, because I was hard-headed, I never went back into her class until final exams. I passed grade 9 and all my subjects albeit without any colors. If there were any colors they definitely weren’t flying – they were sluggishly crawling along like a fat slimy worm.

Although my parents couldn’t really afford it, I was psyched to do my senior years at a private school. Apparently, these schools produce top matriculates (Or is it “matriculaNTS”?. . . come on, spellchecker! Don’t make me look like a retard! . . . matriculEnts?). 

Little did I know how my social and economic disposition (coupled with my lack of commitment) would overwhelm me. Here I was in this school filled with children who obviously seemed well off while I struggled with taxi-fair to get to school. On top of this, there was this stereotype which I fell for – that white people are more intelligent then coloureds and blacks.

This school was roughly 75% white. As a result just standing next to a white kid made me feel inferior. I blame this on myself and the community I grew up with who ingrain these stereotypes into children’s heads. Whether the stereotype is accurate or not it cripples us mentally and emotionally.

To make things even worse, I had reached puberty then – my face was disgustingly pimpled and my hormones were rampaging. Altogether, I started grade 10 on a very low note with similarly low self-esteem. 

The two years that followed was a nightmare. I failed most tests and barely passed exams. I didn’t care to study or do my homework. My classmates got a kick out of making fun of me. The harder I tried to fit in with everyone, the easier it backfired. I was the odd one out. Always awkward in my ways.

I felt like I was outside myself observing myself from behind a screen. Embarrassed at what I’m seeing. Every day seemed exactly the same as the other so, it was highly likely that a day would pass unnoticed. I missed Bibby and the twins. I missed my friends because I could relate to them.

This world was alien to me. I was slipping into a deep and dark abyss of depression and I was too ashamed to reach out to someone. I didn’t feel like living anymore. How I passed grade 10 and 11 is beyond me.

I fell in love when I was in matric. Berenice.  A beautiful girl with a sunny smile, brown eyes and long dark hair. She had perfectly formed thighs and calves. If I could look into the future I would have known that she’d one day be my first girlfriend who I’d date for more than 10 years and eventually marry.

I would've known she would give me two beautiful daughters who both look just like their mother. For now, all I knew was she passed our home every day coming from school, round about the same time. At that time, I’d make sure I’m “casually” hanging around on our front porch trying to gather enough courage to say “Hello”.

The past two years turned me into an introvert so; conversation with a girl (more so a girl who was way outside my league) would be an incredible feat.

One winter’s afternoon I walked her home. She confessed that she had a crush on my too. On that day, I woke up from a two year coma.

If ever I experienced a paradigm shift it was late in my matric year. I was a new person. I had a new found confidence and hope for school and my future (much of it has to do with my wife). Albeit a bit late, I started studying harder than ever.

I paid close attention in class and jotted down as many notes as possible. I made frequent visits to the library. The subject I spent most time on was mathematics. You may not believe what I tell you now but I actually made conscious decision to not pass Maths but to attain 100% on my Maths exam.

I started to love mathematics and solving problems. I think I was addicted to the whole act of trial and error.

(An interesting note: On one of these days while I was going through an old Maths exam paper, I had the television switched on to CNN. Suddenly, CNN was interrupted by some or other report that just came through. They switched over to a reporter who seemed unusually distressed. While he talked, he was pointing to two skyscrapers behind him. It seemed one of the buildings caught fire. But as he spoke, behind him, I noticed an aircraft flying directly to the buildings! The aircraft crashed into the second building. The camera shook, and the reporter started going wild. I couldn't believe what I was seeing. Little did I know I was witnessing the birth of a very controversial political driven war)

The day we wrote the Maths exam paper, I was so nervous I was trembling all over. Everyone else seemed relaxed and that made it worse because it meant they were prepared and I wasn’t. The past few weeks were a steady build up to this moment. I was imagining the worst things that could happen. “What if the question paper is filled with questions I don’t even know how to answer?

What if all my answers are wrong because I used the wrong methods to solve the problems? What if I go blank? When the teacher gave me my question-paper and answer sheet, I braced myself and hoped for the best.

It was a 3 hour question paper; I was done within an hour. What I felt at that moment I could not put into words. I had just written a Mathematics exam of which I was 100% sure I answered everything 100% correct. More than that, I was the first one to put my pen down and close my answer sheet. 

This was the most important revelation in my life: Success favours hard work. I’ve never felt so liberated. Part of what I felt was because of how easy the exam was but the most of it was the realization that I can actually do anything I put my mind to.

I passed matric with a distinction in Mathematics.

Later, thanks to my Math results, I qualified to do a course in air traffic control. The course is extremely strenuous and requires a very steep learning curve. I passed each and every module and am employed by South Africa’s for-most air traffic control company. I intend to keep on developing. Years ago, I never would have thought my life would be the way it is.

What is the point of this article?, you might ask. The point is; no one is born into a perfect world. Regardless of your race, circumstances, whether your rich or poor, popular or not, ugly or handsome – Your will to succeed can surpass all obstacles. There’s a world beyond South Africa’s shortcomings and I’m willing to embrace it. I’m currently learning the primitive C++ programming language. Apparently, there are more advanced and more sufficient languages but if you master C++ you’d have mastered the essential elements.

I don’t have money or time to sign up with a professional institution but I also don’t need it. All I need is the bunch of PDF study material and tutorials I downloaded and the free open license application I’m practicing on. I don’t want a certificate, only a skill I think I can put to very good use.

I plan to develop an application that will greatly benefit both students and teachers in Mathematics.  It sounds like a pipe dream but if I persevere it might be a worthwhile contribution to the field of education. 

Finally, I want to congratulate the matriculents . . .matriculAnts? . . .GRADE12ERS, who passed matric. I know there is controversy surrounding the actual pass mark and the quality of education but I also trust that there are some who actually worked very hard and earned outstanding grades.

Neither here nor there, I wish each one all of the best because these are tomorrow’s leaders.

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