The 6-year-old who decided to become a top student

Do not take me wrong. I love learning. It is just that I started my learning journey because I somehow had to. Because there was no choice. I needed to be independent.

I was born in a small city in the south of Mexico and grew up surrounded by plenty of drama. Life exposed me too early to things that children should never be exposed to. I became a quiet child, introspective, always observing. Very early in life, I figured out that if I was a good student, I could get a little scholarship in my public school, which would help me to help my mami. So, I started studying.

I was 6 when I won my first school contest and participated in my first municipal academic competition. The first of many more. I was the youngest of my generation, as I started school a year before them (5). No, it wasn’t smooth. Sometimes I wanted to hang out with the others, but if mum knew I was one mark less than perfect, I would be grounded during days! She quit her job because of me. She used to spend hours helping me to understand my homework, and forcing me to keep studying. I did have free time, and used it in English or piano lessons or selling cheesecakes, or sweets to make some extra money (yet, another little story to tell). When I received my first scholarship, I remember I took my entire family for pizza (yaaay!) and it felt great! By the age of 10, I was in charge of correcting my teacher’s grammar and maths. The time came when I was in 6th grade, and my life changed.

There is a very famous competition in the entire country and every single 6th-grade student takes part in it. It is the Sixth Grade National Academic Olympics (each year, around 2million students participate). My school hadn’t won the municipal contest in about 6 years. Once I was nominated as my school representative, my teacher, Lilia Cordova, decided that I needed to study harder (yaaay… #not).

Every day after school, I used to go home, eat, and get ready to head to my teacher’s house. She tutored me after school every day in advanced grammar, history, geography, civism, science, and maths. She was doing the best she could. It wasn’t all that great! While my friends were playing in the park in front of my house in San Isidro, I was leaving with my books and my glasses to study! While there were troubles in paradise, I still had to put myself together and go to study. I needed to push hard, so I did.

My teacher has a young girl too (older than me alright), Donahi. She was so lucky. I remember sneaking out to play with her in her dolls’ house when my teacher was not looking… Children (sight). My teacher Lilia (I still call her this way when I see her) bought so many books, which I read. I trained with plenty of mock tests once and again and again. Timing it. Moving fast between subjects. Solving my questions. No joking, I learned everything that I needed to know in maths in a high school level. I still remember visiting Mama Esther during the Easter break. Her house is every child’s dream. One can get lost in there playing bike, with my cousins, swimming, having fun. But not that time. While all the kids were playing, I was in my bedroom at here house learning by heart the rivers and capitals of the world…

I still remember visiting Mama Esther during the Easter break. Her house was every child’s dream. One can get lost in there playing bike, running to collect some mangos, playing with water wars, having fun with my cousins. But not that time. While all of the kids were playing, I was in my bedroom at her house learning by heart the rivers and capitals of the world… I tried to learn them by singing the “Animaniacs” song (yes, I am that old!), which I was not really allowed to watch. Mum thought I had to spend my time in useful duties.

Finally, the D-day arrived. I was there with my mum (yes, she was always there!), and my teacher Lilia. The school hosting it was the champion for the last 6 years. I was a bit intimidated. I remember we were around 20 kids coming from all the schools in the Municipality. I sat. I prepared my pencil and my eraser and waited for the exam to arrive. I do not remember anymore whether it was hard. My memory has completely deleted that. I just remember when the judges were announcing the results. I had won.

I had to prepare harder to go to the regional contest I, competing against the best public schools from the capital of the state. I won again. Then the regional II. Then the state public school contests. All the finalist from all the regions in the state coming. From the rich urban cities, such as Taxco, Zihuatanejo and Acapulco, from the non-so wealthy and from the rural ones. We were all there. Yes, I was very intimidated. I won again. then had to participate in the final test, the State contest including everybody, public and private schools. Anyway.

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Winners in the Sixth Grade National Academic Olympics with the Governor of the State of Guerrero (1994)

As winners we were invited, the 20 top students from the state, to meet the Governor and the ministries at Guerrero’s Mansion. The funny thing is that I never realised that that contest would change my life at so many levels (see also How was I ranked one of the top public speakers in my state’s history by the age 25). I was a recipient of the State Medal ‘Francisco Figueroa Mata’, which acknowledges outstanding childhood academic trajectory, in the state of Guerrero, Mexico. We were sent to Mexico City to represent our state and join the national talents hanging out with the smartest kids in the country for a week and meeting the President of Mexico and State Ministries.

We also travelled around the country in the “Route of Independence” learning about the history of our country and what makes us the Mexico we are now. Because we were coming from different backgrounds, the government gave us uniforms, sports clothes, formal suits for the official events, shoes, and a camera (my first camera ever!). I also received my first computer and printer. I remember that my Mama Rosi escorted me every day to Conchita’s as my dad decided that I needed to have only suits for my trip (yaaay #not).

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On behalf of the Guerrero Delegation, in Mexico City

I was lucky enough that two teachers were invited to come and join us. My teacher Lilia was there with me :). On that trip, I met one of my lifetime friends, Dr Marvin Antonio Soriano, who is making history in health sciences.

ganadores de la Olimpiada del Conocimiento Infantil Guerrero 1994
Winners in the Sixth Grade National Academic Olympics, representing Guerrero, with the President of Mexico (1994)

The rest is history. I went back to Tixtla and was received by my elementary school as a little hero. Then I moved into secondary school. There were also academic competitions. I was a municipal, regional and state winner again.

En Tixtla
With my “Tia Julita” acknowledged for Excellence in Secondary School by a group of notables

While in the CBTis 134, my technical high school, I used to go to school in the evenings as I was working in the mornings and training public speaking in the afternoons. When I won the internal competition in Grammar and Writing, I met my teacher Haydee Colmenares, who was assigned as my mentor. She was also very good to me. She trained me hard for a year to stand up and win the state competitions. So I did. And was a winner in the nationals too. Coming from a state like Guerrero, ranked as the 3rd worse in educational quality in Mexico, this is not easy! We are also, as of today, the most dangerous state in Mexico. The following year, I participated again and won the state competition. Something happened and I could not travel to the nationals. But that does not really matter now. On that year, I had won more than 30 academic achievements and was distinguished with the Prize for the Youth Guerrero and the Medal and the State Civil Merit Medal ‘Jose Azueta’, acknowledged for outstanding youth life trajectory by the age of 17.

I left my state to study college. I graduated as a Magna Cum Laude in Puebla. With time, I had the opportunity of studying in Boston and in Dublin. My masters and my PhD respectively.  I have been with worldwide renowned academics and presented my academic work in different countries and universities. My 6 years old self was right, being a good student changed my history. When I am writing and finding it hard to focus, I close my eyes and I can see the little Temis (my childhood nickname), looking at me with her pink glasses (my mum’s favourite colour, not mine!) moving her head in disapproval and going back to her readings in one of her encyclopedias, her hobby (she is strange, I am telling you!).

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