By Devin White

Editor’s Note: High school isn’t easy for many students, especially when suffering from chronic laziness, apathy and stress. As one young man explores, it takes a lot of self-motivation and support to reach your educational goals in high school and beyond. Devin White is a senior at Far West High School in Oakland, California and an intern at YO! Youth Outlook Multimedia. 

Back in middle school, I was lazy. I got B’s and C’s, with the occasional A, and I failed algebra just like everyone else. The only thing I wanted to do was to go home and play video games.

During my eighth-grade graduation ceremony, all the white kids were exalted on stage for their academic excellence and community service. There were no black role models on stage for me to look up to. I wanted to be recognized, too, but I realized I had no talents or skills. There was nothing special to distinguish me from any other black youth in Oakland. I was still unmotivated when I entered high school. There were only six teachers and the high school I attended was really ghetto. In fact, it was so bad that after my freshman year it got closed down.

And so, midway through my freshman year, I transferred to Far West High School. It’s fairly small, and all the buildings are portables. The school’s demographic was pretty much the same as the last one, mostly black, but these were a different brand of blacks. The environment was better and I could focus more. I got a little better that year, and became a slightly above-average student, getting a fair amount of A’s throughout the year.

Before I transferred to Far West, I took a creative writing class in ninth grade in which the teacher, Ms. Williams, said I had good writing skills. I didn’t believe her. I thought she was praising my writing just so I would stop being lazy. But I didn’t want to stop being lazy. I saw no reason to work hard.

The next year, in tenth grade, I took a poetry class. Once again, the teacher told me I was a good writer. It was then that I started to consider that I might actually be good at writing. These writing classes made me to realize that I wasn’t performing up to my true potential in school.

I realized I needed to take my education more seriously. Almost all of the successful people I knew had sought out education. I wasn’t on track to become successful. I was on track to become a fat, lazy slob. Things had to change.

I went into my sophomore year wanting to prove to myself that I could do whatever I set my mind to. I set a goal to get a 4.0 GPA for the first grading period. I worked really hard and became extremely focused and determined. When report card time rolled around, my efforts were rewarded with a 4.2 GPA!

It felt good to accomplish my academic goal. I decided to try to maintain a 4.2 GPA throughout the entire year. Why get good grades only once? Now I wanted to pursue bigger dreams and aspirations.

To maintain good grades, I improved my study habits. I became organized. I set aside time to do my homework. If I had weaknesses with any class material, I identified them and worked hard to improve them. I went to teachers for help and guidance. Teachers, who I think are the best people on this earth, are resources I never thought to utilize during my earlier schooling years.

My teachers said good things about me, and it felt rewarding to have them on my side. My parents were proud and gave me a little extra money, but in retrospect, I wish they had been ecstatic. My parents made it seem as if my good grades were expected.

Expanding my peer circle helped my transformation, too. I made friends with some young women in school who could be categorized as the “intellectual types.” These women didn’t deal with unmotivated guys, so I made it a point to get the best grades possible and not be one of those types of guys.

My hardworking attitude transcended beyond just school. In eleventh grade, I joined a marathon training program and got in the best shape of my life. Before running the marathon, classmates had labeled me as a bit of a nerd, because I didn’t play sports, was fairly chubby, and wore glasses. Now my social life has improved. I play sports, go out more, and have made new friends.

With all my hard work and determination, I’m working a job and gaining as much experience as possible. This fall, I’m heading into my senior year of high school and I plan on finishing this last leg of high school strong.

I’ve learned that education is the key to success. When I was young, grown-ups always use to tell me, “Get an education, boy!” Back then, my grades were mediocre and I wasn’t on track to get into a good school. I had to step up my academic performance.

I would love to attend an Ivy League university, but if I don’t get in, UC Berkeley is my college of choice. I plan on learning as much as possible. Why stop at just four years of college with a B.A.? Who knows? Maybe I’ll pursue an M.D. or J.D.!

I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.

This article is part of a content partnership between Oakland Local and Youth Outlook Magazine