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I’m not sure really how it happened, maybe it was just by chance or just how I was born to be, but I was nerdy from the start. Nerdy in the academic way which somehow inevitably leads to also being a bit stunted socially. It probably didn’t help that I was not allowed to stay at sleepovers past 10pm or so, thereby negating the whole “sleepover” aspect of the party, and was told by my parents (when I questioned this) that the hosting parents just end up tying the children up and putting them in the closet next to the vacuum cleaner anyway.

In elementary school, being nerdy hadn’t yet taken its toll on my social life (I was still invited to all the sleepovers, even if I never did actually sleep over), and I loved it. I loved picking up on all the nuances of the teacher–when she put her bunny fingers up indicating she wanted silence, I was the first to do as Simon Says. When it was time to clean up, I did it the fastest and always maintained a visibly neat workspace with all my sharpened pencils kept tidily in my panda pencil box.

Every week we brought home white legal-sized envelopes containing a week’s worth of schoolwork for our parents to review (and maybe ooh and aaah over) which then had to be returned the next day bearing a parent’s signature. Every week I made sure to have my dad sign it so I could return it and claim my reward of 2 Skittles. Often before bed, stressed out, I would realize my dad hadn’t yet signed the envelope. I would demand he signed it. He would look over at me and tell me I could sign it myself. And I would tell him I couldn’t sign it, that he had to sign it, that that’s what the teacher said had to happen. So he would sign it.

Back then 2 Skittles seemed like the world! Heck, I couldn’t even score 1 Skittle at my house.

My idea of a great summer vacation was joining the Summer Reading Program at the library where if I read 50 books that summer, I would be awarded a certificate for a free personal pan pizza. I lived for that reading program. And I never, ever fudged how many books I’d read. Actually, it never even occurred to me to lie about it and maybe to even fill out forms for my brother and sister too and claim their pizzas for myself!

And I always, always got my teacher a Christmas present. Usually some mug or desk trinket from Cost Plus that my mom helped pick out. When I received thank you notes, I would relish what was written on the inside.

One year I got Ms. Imada a mug, a pound of coffee and a king size Snickers bar (they were her favorite). Her thank you note read, “Sobrina, thank you very much for the Christmas gift! Snickers are my favorite. I cut a small piece off of the Snickers bar every night for dessert–there’s so much of it!” I imagined Ms. Imada at home, tasked with consuming a whole King Size candy bar–unwrapping an inch or so of bar, cutting off a piece, sitting at her kitchen table to chew and mull the day over, then wrapping it back up and putting it back in the fridge for tomorrow. Now, of course, it seems a bit far-fetched that someone could make a candy bar last longer than 30 minutes.

This morning for some reason, I got to thinking about all this and thinking about why I turned how I did. And I think my old yearbook inscriptions have a lot to do with it. Every year, after getting our yearbooks, I rushed around trying to get all the teachers to sign it. And afterwards I would run away to read what they had written in my own privacy. I remember they were all great, bold and magnificent. Things that commended my great work for the year, the pleasure I was to have in class, and they always mentioned what good things they were sure I would accomplish the next year. This left me with a glowy-face feeling and was the perfect end to every school year, while the promise of another awe-inspiring yearbook inscription amped me up for the start of the next year.

I didn’t read every students’ yearbooks, so I can’t attest to what teachers wrote in theirs. But maybe if all teacher’s wrote great things in every kids’ yearbook it just might be what students need. I should share this with the future educators of America. I’m seeing Irene this weekend, I think I’ll tell her, who can then tell her cohorts, who can then adopt it as a key point in the Stanford education program… we are sure to see a drop in drug use, teenage pregnancy. And maybe a rise in summer reading program registrations…

Last modified: January 10, 2019