Who fails elementary school? I did. With my below-average grades, no one was surprised — least of all me — when my second-grade teacher took me and two other classmates aside and said, “You did not pass and you’ll be held back.”
Needless to say, decades later, I paid close attention to my daughter’s second-grade results. When she passed, I proudly told her she was already ahead of her old man. I did the same with my son this June.
I look back at my youth and remember it vividly. Grade four, long division. That’s where they lost me in mathematics and, after failing grade-six math, it was off to summer school. For a kid who loved science and math, I learned early on that they didn’t love me back.
In the summer before ninth grade, my mother had contracted AIDS — a death sentence in the early 1990s. She lost her job and my family was forced onto welfare once again. To help out, I went to work before I even turned 15. I was surprised when I managed to graduate from high school.
I realized I was the only one among my friends without a plan, so I figured I would continue my studies as well. After four years, including a stint in night school, I graduated from CEGEP. There, I had taken a class with the inspiring Ishwar Prashad, BA 70, who introduced me to and got me hooked on politics. Having a knack for political science, I decided to apply to Concordia’s School of Community and Public Affairs. I did not meet the criteria, yet after an interview and a short essay, I was nonetheless admitted into the double-major program. I owe everything to whatever it was that allowed me to squeeze through and graduate.
I was working full-time and had to balance that with my studies and raising my children. It took 10 years, but I’m proud I finally got my bachelor’s degree.
In a desire to improve my French writing skills, I recently completed my MBA at l’École de la science de la gestion at Université du Québec à Montréal. While I spent a small fortune on tutors, it’s thanks to my teachers and my colleagues that I completed my studies — even if a few years late, as has become my custom.
There’s a quote by Friedrich Nietzsche that says, “The surest way to corrupt a youth is to instruct him to hold in higher esteem those who think alike than those who think differently.” If I have taken pains to describe my often arduous academic path, it is only to emphasize Nietzsche’s words.
While I never thought of myself as incompetent, I realized that I learn differently than others — and that, at times, has made me feel incompetent. I am grateful to the many people along the way who have recognized what makes me different, embraced it and pushed me to pursue my goals. It would have been much easier to cast me aside. Instead, I was given access and opportunity — and that is a true testament of an inclusive society.
Throughout my journey I’ve come to realize that the only difference between me and a high-school dropout is that I was never satisfied with my situation. I just kept on going. That perseverance serves as my advice to my children and students today: keep on going.
Christopher Skeete is a Member of the National Assembly of Quebec representing the Sainte-Rose district; Parliamentary Assistant to the Premier for Relations with English-Speaking Quebecers; and Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister Responsible for the Fight Against Racism.