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Bianca Papainopol - The courage to become you | People of Justice 2023 Bucharest

Bianca Papainopol took to the stage of People of Justice '23 with a message that resonates loudly in the heart: it takes a lot of courage to be! Her story started from Bianca's childhood and the challenges of her school years and ended with some simple lessons drawn on the blackboard about what we can do to make the road, with all its ups and downs, easier for us.

Author: Bianca Papainopol

Tonight I will tell the story of a 12-year-old girl who is here right now.

Bucharest, 2004. I am a 6th grade student at a state school in Militari district. It's a sunny Sunday afternoon, and instead of enjoying my free time at play, I suddenly feel the urge to go inside to study.  The next day, Monday, I have math class, a subject that hadn't captivated me, but neither had it worried me excessively. This time, however, the thought that I was likely to have an assessment, and as a result, I would be given a grade, gave me anxiety, made me fearful. But why am I afraid?

A few weeks ago, it was my turn to go to the blackboard for math class. The teacher is a tall, skinny, 35 year old woman who loves colorful dresses and tobacco.  Although she seems friendly outside of class, she is unapologetic in her dealings with the students in her class. The kind of teacher who believes that everyone should know maths to a high level, and finds it hard to understand that a pupil can be attracted to other subjects, diametrically opposed to the one she teaches. 

 I had already received a grade on a previous test, which I thought was not so great, being my only grade of 8 on my report card, so I was hoping that if I got out on the board, I could get a higher grade and save my average, and with it, my reputation as a conscientious student. 

It didn't take long to get to the table. I wasn't looking at my classmates or my teacher. All I did was stare at that blackboard, broken at the corners by the passage of time, on which all the battles were fought at that time. The teacher dictated the problem statement in a quiet voice. I began to write a few formulas from the statement, then stopped, my palms sweating. Somehow I was searching for the right words to ask the teacher to repeat the problem statement so that I could write it down, but she found her words faster than I did, saying:

"Come on, girl, you can't even write that much?" I could feel my face turning red at the sound of my classmates bursting out laughing. The chalk broke in my hand. My eyes felt wet. My heart was pounding harder and harder in my chest and I felt like I was unable to articulate a word. No, I didn't feel like crying. I was just allergic to aggression, like others are allergic to freshly mown grass or pollen. I was somatizing the fear with this uncontrollable tearing. But the teacher at the desk would not be moved by my tears or my silence. On the contrary, the tears made her angry. "What's the matter, girl, are you out of your mind, lost in another world? Can't you even write? You're three today. Next time you'll know how to solve the problem! Maybe if you get a 3 and no chance at the prize, you'll wake up to reality!"

After receiving my sentence, I walked to the bank, feeling the walk there was interminable. I just wanted to get out of the classroom and bury my head in the sand like the ostrich. Within minutes, I had embarrassed myself in front of all my classmates, managed to piss off the teacher, and earned a reputation as a "poor math student." And on top of all that, how was I going to tell my parents that instead of getting a better grade and fixing the mistake with the previous eight I got, I got a three. 

Recalling the classroom incident that Sunday at the age of 12 installed in me a sense of fear. Fear of feeling that ugly emotion again, fear of being shamed again, fear of disappointing. Fear of low grades and failure. Even though I didn't perceive them so obviously then.

From that moment on, a change took place in my mind, because I lost my self-confidence, but I gained the impression that I am not able to understand mathematics, and with that, I will lose the chance to take the prize.

For every year I spent in the shadow of fear, my story unfolded through dark pages and anxiety-laden chapters, slowly, slowly pulling me away from my full potential as I raced to get high grades in a subject that wasn't right for me, just to stay on the podium next to my award-winning classmates. 

I wrote poetry and prose, I was passionate about foreign languages or history and I studied with dedication, I read dozens of books with ardour and developed a varied vocabulary. But my main characteristic remained that I wasn't "good enough at maths" and this incompetence had to go if I really wanted to succeed. 

After the 8th grade Capability exam, I stopped trying to change this label and wore it without question, somehow as an acceptance of the category I received, I opted for the philological profile in high school, just, just, not to disturb the deepening of the science of mathematics by my incompetence. 

Now that I have laid a small part of my story in your consciousness, with the last voice, I would like to convey, from the adult's perspective, to the 12-year-old a few thoughts, because I know her better than anyone: 

 Give yourself time to become, and permission to evolve. Don't be afraid of mistakes, because they are valuable lessons that will guide you towards growth, even if this fear you feel right now may be clouding your path. But fear, grades or people's perceptions do not define who you really are. And it takes a lot of courage to become you!

Listen to your intuition and follow your passions without being ashamed of everything you feel, because only a strong man values his emotions and shows himself vulnerable in front of the world. And your sensitivity is strength!

Always remain human, sowing hope and confidence in your soul! Because, in time, on a Friday evening, on a warmly lit stage, and in front of many eyes that will look at you curiously, you will tell the story of your own becoming, muttering the echo of the past!   

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