When I was seventeen or eighteen years old I got bad grades in math. Not content I asked my teacher for a chance to finish early. No, not by quitting the course prematurely, but by sitting an exam on three years’ worth of math to get the final grades based singularely on my test results. Now when I write it down I can hear the drums of fate over it. The math taught to youths my age was divided into levels according to education (naturally), and the math I took was the second most complicated you could take. Only students who took ”natural sciences” studied harder math. Back then I was so confident I could do it I didn’t think much of it.
The reason I got bad grades was a combination of lazyness and activism. I had joined the youth section of a political party, and fighting against racism and study the rather dreary and complicated processes through which a country is ruled seemed much more important than going to school. Math wasn’t the only subject where my grades made a dive for it. It’s a miracle that I was able to attend university at all. But it was the grades in math that was a scoff to my ego, and the kick in the butt to do something.
The swedish education system was by then set up to a kind of gradual examination. Your end grades in ”gymnasiet” (the level you take between ~16 and 19 years of age) were based on your collected results of the three years of studies. Takes a lot of stress out of graduation, and gives the student several more chances to pick up her/his results after a bad period. In my time there was a lot less standardised tests to do, so a lot was decided by the teacher executing the exam. My teacher liked me enought to allow me to take the math tests (he had to jump through several administrational hoops make it happen), but he was not a person handing out unneccessary favours. If I wanted good grades I’d better have high test results.
This was during those few years when several world changing events were happening; the Soviet Union fell appart, the Berlin wall was teared down, and apartheid fell in South Africa among other things. It was an exciting time to be in politics, and when Nelson Mandela was released from prison it was like reaching the end goal of something you’ve fought for so long. My parents hadn’t had me when he was thrown into jail, and I was almost grownup when he finally was a free man again. No wonder he made a world tour like a rockstar! He came to Stockholm where I was living and the biggest arena in town was booked. The tickets sold out in minutes.
Since I was in politics and my speciality was international politics I was given a ticket to that event. I didn’t even have to pay for it. There was just one small problem; that event was to take place before my math exam, during the most critical study period. It was a slight chance I could do both, which meant I had to beat sleep deprivation and excitment to get my grade. I can’t remember that I ever hesitated. I gave the ticket to a friend.
It was a simple case of logical deduction; I wanted the highest grade possible in math, she was way more into politics than I so a ticket to the Nelson Mandela event would mean more to her. The ticket wasn’t tied to me and several mutual friends would go, so I had all the possiblities to give it to her. Keeping it would be selfish, and probably mean I flunked my test. That’s why I spent the evening Nelson Mandela visited Stockholm confined to my room, studying how to calculate averages, interest rates over time and other mathematic intricacies. I know my friend had a great time at the arena, and I went on to take my test without making one single mistake – the only higher level test I’ve taken with a 100% success rate.