Solving for X

Ariel Yong Hydrocephalus Association Teens Take Charge MentorBy Ariel Yong

When I was younger, I wanted to be a cashier at the local grocery store.

My uncle gave me my first cash register (I say first because I would end up with two more) for Christmas one year and that was where it all began. Sometimes I pretended I was the cashier of my own bakery. Other times I owned a Target. And a few times I was the cashier at the McDonald’s drive-thru. As nerdy as this sounds, I just couldn’t get enough of punching the prices into my register, scanning bar codes I’d taped to my toys and counting the fake, way-too-green looking money.

But it wasn’t that I liked wearing an apron with a nametag (this story just keeps getting better and better doesn’t it) or hearing the “cha-ching!” from my cashier register. It was because I loved making change.

I would purposely make up the most random totals and then have the fake customer give me a bill that was too large so more change was needed. For example, I’d pretend two stuffed animals cost $7.47 total, and the customer would give me a $50.

Why you might ask? Because the fun for me was counting the change in my head.

And this is when I knew I loved math.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I am the first person to admit that this subject is complicated and makes zero sense more often than not. But I love it. I love crunching numbers. I love solving problems. I love solving for x.

The best thing about math is that there is always only one answer. Nine plus four is always thirteen. It’s never ten or fourteen. But here’s the beautiful part – it doesn’t matter how you get the answer thirteen. Some people use their fingers. Maybe others just have it memorized. Or still others, myself included, have invented their own way of finding the sum. (I will spare you the details of my own way to count numbers. This post is nerdy enough.)

Life is the opposite of math. No one can tell you for sure what the answer is to your daily problems and dilemmas. Should I take AP Calculus or just regular calculus? Should I go away to college or stay close to home? Should I take this internship or see if I can find one that will pay me? Is this the right guy for me? Are these the people I should be hanging out with? For me, math was something that always made (and still makes) sense.

I declared my math major at Northwestern University (NU) in the middle of my freshman year. It was something I knew I could study for four years, but I had no idea how hard it would be. I don’t know if this is a good thing, but I became a known “regular” in the math lab in high school and continued to be a regular in the math library in college. I spent my Friday afternoons in office hours with my college math teachers because I knew no one else would be there so I could get all my questions answered. A math major was something I knew I wanted, and I decided there was nothing and nobody who could stop me.

So this is the point that I’m trying to make to you, to anyone who is reading this whether you have hydrocephalus or not. If you want to study math (or science, medicine, history, etc.), you can do it. Whether it’s just getting a good grade on a test, passing your math class or majoring in this painfully wonderful subject, you can do it. It won’t be without blood, sweat and tears (lots of tears – if someone tells you there’s no crying in math, he/she is lying to you), but I promise you can do if you put your mind to it.

Until very recently, I didn’t know that math is not a favorable subject among those who have hydrocephalus. That for some of us math is more than a struggle, because the difficulties can be rooted in changes in our brain caused by the hydrocephalus and repeated surgeries or sustained pressure. So, sometimes we need extra help. Well, I wanted to share that I had a lot of extra help. And I’ve also gotten my fair share of poor math grades. But I wanted it. I wanted a math degree. So all I have to say is this: If you want to become a mathematician or an actuary or just get through your 8th grade math class, have faith in yourself and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Not only does this show initiative, but it also shows confidence. That you are able to admit when you are struggling, and you know who can help you.

My math degree from NU hangs above my desk, and I wish I could end this blog post with some cool way on how I’m using all those geometric formulas on the 4D plane in my life today. Instead, when I look at my diploma, I just feel pride. That I worked hard to achieve my goal. And you can, too.

I did, however, finally achieve my lifetime goal as a child. I’m a cashier at Sprinkles Cupcakes. And I make change all day long.

Life couldn’t be better.