Dear immigrant student in Storm Lake: this is for you. Read it. Throw it away or do something about it, it's up to you.
But here's the thing, kid. For years now, we have been blaming the fact that we are an ethnically-diverse community for coming up short on those basic skills tests and landing our schools on those "trouble lists." Time to stop looking for something to blame.
In a few weeks you'll be walking back into that school again. Might be a worthless year, or an epic one. But one thing, kid. Don't blame it on your teacher, or your principal, or your parents, or poverty, or discrimination, if you don't get anything out of this year. Because it is your choice to make. It's on you.
If you decide not to learn, it's not the school failing. It's you quitting. Give up, and you'll keep giving up. And one day you'll be 56 and dropping fries into the grease basket and wondering what the hell happened to your life.
Soon enough, kid, you'll be sent to a room to take that basic skills test. And you know what? A whole lot of people aren't expecting you to do anything but fill in the little ovals at random, or your way out to grudge-paint gang grafitti on their garages.
They don't think you can do it, kid. They don't think our schools can do it. We're just a district full of minorities and welfare cases, immigrants who don't know the language, slack offs and wannabe gangsters.
And kid, on the day you believe them, that's the day those people start being right.
Or, you could do this. You could walk into that building at the end of August and set about draining every drop of education they have to offer you. Knowledge? Drive it like you stole it. You could join something. You could show everybody who thinks you aren't good enough. You could own 'em.
I'll tell you a little secret, kid. You're smart. Oh, you might know that and be satisfied to hide it so that you can blend in quietly... or maybe you haven't found it out yet, and you've bought into people's low expectations.
Smart? Maybe you've had to get by on the streets. Maybe your parents weren't around that much. Maybe you've been shuffled between foster homes. Had to dodge gangs and drugs. Maybe you've had to take care of things, and look after little brothers and sisters when you were still a child yourself. It isn't easy surviving that way - it takes brains and knowing how to get by, it takes being able to think on your feet and stand up for yourself.
Now it's time to do it in that high school building, kid, because this is your chance. Maybe your only one.
The ugly truth is that you might have to work harder than anyone else to get where you are going. No, it's not fair. So what? The world isn't fair.
Your English might not be great. You might feel out of place. You'd never show it, but you might even be a little scared, huh? A lot of people around you have the attitude that it's better to skate by and waste your years, making fun of everything, pretending that it doesn't matter, than it is to actually try, and risk failing. You know who I'm talking about, kid. They will drag you with them if you let them.
You might not have rich parents who can buy you a fancy laptop and send you to space camp. Whatever. I've never seen a computer make anyone smart yet.
You have to want it. So bad you'll kill yourself just to get a B+ in that damn crazy math class you don't understand. You know what, the class that's the easy A, it's gone tomorrow. So is the one you didn't try in, and were satisfied with the D. I guarantee you this - 30 years from now, the class you will remember is the one where you hated that teacher for making your brain hurt and giving you so much homework you couldn't even go to the beer party - the grade you had to sweat for. That's the one that sticks.
S**t happens kid. You get beat up. You have to live in a crappy apartment and walk to school. Congress may never pass a DREAM Act. Your parents don't understand. Cry me a river. Show me where those are reasons to quit. Those are reasons to throw yourself at that school and show everybody who you are. (And in 30 years, say hi to that bully when he's handing french fries out to your new Corvette.)
You might as well know this right now: Education isn't your right. It's your challenge. It's on you. I know the teachers in your school, kid. They aren't holding you down, nobody can do that but you. Try asking that teacher if you can come in for some extra help during study hall and watch them light up like a Christmas tree. Step up and ask if they have some reading that's harder than what they gave the class. Be the kid that makes them work for their check.
If they ask for a report at least three pages long, give them six. Go over it twice and make it so tight they wonder what in the hell got into you. When your mind starts to wander during a lecture, crank it down even harder, because - did you know this? - you can. Question everything. Don't look to the Internet to do your thinking for you. Make everything you do original and strong, like you are.
Speaking of strong, realize that someone younger than you is going to be watching. Or someone in trouble, someone on the edge and about to slip over. Grab their hand and hold on, kid. Lift someone up with you. That's what strong is about.
I've been in your school, kid. All the races get along okay, but often hang to their own group. In life, that doesn't get you far. If it's not you to break the barriers, who's going to do it?
Don't let anybody take your dream from you, kid. If they try, fight them for it, like it's all you have. Do you hear me?
Standardized tests and even grades don't measure who you are, whether you can learn if you really want to, what's inside you, who you may become. They don't mean anything to anybody, really... except yourself. It's up to you whether or not you really try, or buy into those who expect so little of you. Because being great is truly the smallest minority group of all.