A Student’s Christmas Gift to Her AP Statistics Teacher

The student wrote the essay in October, as part of her application to the Stanford University Summer College (Residential-Domestic) program. The prompt was: ‘Write a 500 – 700  word  essay  on the best advice you have received.’ 


My Stanford University Essay on “The Best Advice I Have Received” 

by Lissette Barretto 

Dr. Marietta Geraldino, my Algebra 2 and AP Statistics teacher, has taught me much more than formulas and rules for math. In fact, she has continuously taught me the value  of striving for excellence. In our fast-paced 8th period class, Ms. G, as she is fondly called, would still find a couple  of  moments  to  share  a  few  words  of  wisdom  that  have remained with me ever since.

She shared with us that none of her accomplishments would have been possible without confidence, constant motivation, and a strong support system.  Then,  to  emphasize  this philosophy,  Ms.  G  loves  to  say, “Your classmates are NOT your competition. Your only competition is yourself.”

Now after hearing that same phrase constantly, I began to think about her words and slowly decipher their meaning. Then, in turn, what I learned from Ms. G inspired me to be a better student and person.

Firstly, Ms. G’s comment made  me realize how vital it is for me to truly believe in myself and to continuously strive to be better. As a freshman in her honors Trigonometry class, I felt unprepared and overwhelmed going into the course. In a class of 18 students, most being juniors and seniors, I was one of the  only  five  freshmen in  class.  Ms. G  had  high expectations for me, but in reality I was pretty baffled by the content.

Only later did I discover that the only thing I really had to fear was fear itself. After spending hours reviewing my class notes and doing self study, I slowly began to grasp the material and dared myself to do well. Without the confidence that I developed throughout the year, I wouldn’t have excelled in all my classes. Whenever I tend to doubt my abilities or second guess my role in the class, I would remind myself of all the progress I had already made as proof that I could succeed in this class.

Secondly, her mantra also taught me the value of motivation. I choose to focus on her as my role model because of the consistent drive and determination she displays everyday. I don’t see her solely as a math teacher but as a successful and admirable woman. I told myself that I should strive to be more like her, and that all the advice she gave me I would practice daily. Ms. G never lacks confidence and motivation. She believes that any student could achieve anything if we put our heart into it. I now understand that in order for me to reach my dreams and aspirations, I have to constantly work for it. When she said that our only competition is ourselves, I told myself that I shouldn’t fear anyone. I shouldn’t be intimidated by others, rather, I should challenge my self to constantly improve.

Thirdly, Ms. G’s motto made me realize the value that my classmates have in my academics . When I was placed in the Trigonometry class, I wasn’t the only freshman; there were four of us. It wasn’t until after Ms. G told us that they weren’t competition did I realize that they could be so helpful. I became such close friends with Aimee, Miranda, Jonathan, and Christopher. We helped each other in class, reviewed in lunch,  stayed after school together and most importantly motivated each other. Thus, after these observations, I’ve realized that skills alone are not enough. Motivation is equally, if not as more important, and I know it will be a key aspect of achieving my dreams.

It was also in these moments that I would reflect on  all the times my classmates and I would compete about who had the highest grade on the test.  Such kind of pettiness only held us back and was a waste of time and energy that could have been used so much more effectively. I learned that a peer’s achievements would not in any way diminish my contribution or worth.  In fact, I’ve found out that we were able to do so much more as a collective whole or when we all coöperated as a class. Therefore, as I continue to pursue my academic career, I want to help foster the kind of intellectual community where everyone treats each other and supports one another as equals.

Thus, from Ms. G’s brief words, I have learned valuable lessons about myself and the world that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. I now feel inspired to pursue my academic passions wholeheartedly, help those around me, and challenge  myself  to  be a better person than before.


Lissette B.Lissette emailed me the essay today as “my way of thanking you this Christmas,” she said. This is a gift I will always treasure as an educator.


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