Before we get to know each other any further, I think it best to get one of the best-kept secrets about me out in the open right away: I failed grade 10 math class. It was not really due to my inability to learn. It had more to do with my ability to dream away my time, thinking about my future. I had so many questions. How would I work my life out? How would I reach all of my goals? Would I really have to master geometry to be fulfilled?

My life really sucked. Not only did I not understand how I would get from classroom 202B to everything I wanted in life, I was teetering on the brink of not being able to graduate. Apparently, passing math was required, and since I was failing the class, I was put on academic probation.

My parents informed me via a “family meeting” that academic probation was something that colleges did not appreciate, so I was enrolled in grade 10 math to be completed during the summer break—via correspondence.

While all my friends were whooping it up at summer camp, I was at home, alone, in my bedroom, staring at my correspondence lessons. If I could pass this course, I could move on to the next math level in the fall semester, get off academic probation, and be on track to graduate.

For the first part of the summer I spent most of my days in my bedroom with my correspondence lessons still enclosed in their airtight plastic wrap, my brand-new coiled notebook cracked open to page one, and me staring out my half-opened bedroom window trying to devise a way I could pass this course without doing any work. Day after day, I failed to come up with a viable plan of action that would get me the results I wanted.

When I would get frustrated with trying to figure out how on earth I would ever graduate, I went back to what I was doing in my first math class: thinking about my future. This proved to be quite a downer too. How would my life work out? How would I get past this summer and what seemed to be an insurmountable barrier? How would I get off academic probation, get my diploma, see and do the things I wanted to experience, and all the other stuff that I was thinking about when I failed grade 10 math the first time?

It was during one of these days in late July, after a few hours of lots-of-thinking-and-no-doing, that I decided I deserved a break and went to the kitchen to forage for a snack. When I returned to my summer math haven with sandwich in hand, my mother was standing in my bedroom holding my plastic-wrapped correspondence lessons. I swallowed my unchewed mouthful of sandwich and realized I was in trouble. This would have been a great day to actually have opened that package, I thought. Too late.

My mother flung herself on the bed, burst into tears, and assumed a fetal position, all while still clutching my stack of correspondence lessons. Maybe it was a good thing they were still in their protective wrapping—my mother was crying buckets.

Long story short, my mother agreed to stop with the tears and wailing and leave my bedroom if I agreed to at least unwrap and try to decipher the first assignment.

My mother left my bedroom whimpering and silently closed the door behind her. Off came the plastic wrap. The correspondence lessons breathed their first breath out of their airtight jail and puffed up in size about two inches. I sat up straight, positioned my coiled ring scribbler into writing mode, grabbed my freshly hand-sharpened HB pencil, and started reading the first section. It was all about comparing distances using geometry.

Question one seemed pretty easy. Actually, it was so simple that I closed my lesson book and checked to make sure I had received grade 10 math correspondence and not a lower level by mistake. The question only required a yes or no, and I proudly put the obviously correct answer of yes and moved on to question two.

I felt a nudging to stop and look at question one again. Had I missed something? I read the question aloud just to make sure my eagerness to satiate my weeping mother had not clouded my judgment:

Mary and Frank are standing side by side both facing east. Frank turns north one degree away from Mary to face northeast. If Mary and Frank each walk in a straight direction for five miles, will they both end up in the same place?

I pondered Mary and Frank’s details. I sketched out their journey on my white notepaper. What was the big deal? All Frank had done was turn one single degree to the north. Would that tiny action really have resulted in him not ending up where Mary did? I drew a Mary and a Frank on my notepad. I made sure they were equal in stature just so neither would have an advantage. I got out my pencil and extended an arrow away from Mary due east. I did the same for Frank, with his arrow heading straight northeast. I charted out each step that Mary and Frank made. My eyes moved away from my notepaper and looked out my bedroom window toward the field behind our house. I imagined Mary and Frank walking and walking under the hot summer sun. At the beginning, the two stayed pretty much close together. However, to my surprise, the farther they walked, the farther they moved away from each other.

Who knew! Frank and Mary did not end up in the same place! At that very moment my bedroom door creaked open, and my mother, all freshened up and with a smile from ear to ear, walked in with a big bowl full of fresh blueberries. She placed the bowl on my notebook, leaving a blue circle stain right over top my artist’s rendition of Frank’s one-degree-of-difference journey. The sudden interruption jolted me away from my vision of Frank and Mary walking under the hot summer sun. I sat there for the rest of the afternoon eating the blueberries one by one until the bowl was completely empty. I thought about all the life pondering I had done during grade 10 math class (round one) and realized that my life did not suck, that I would be more than capable of seeing everything I wanted to see, that I would experience everything I wanted to experience, and accomplish everything I wanted to accomplish. I simply had to turn myself one degree toward the direction I wanted and walk in a straight line. Oh sure, I realized that at the beginning I would not be very far away from everyone else or from where I started. But over time, my one-degree shift would take me miles away from my starting point. Little by little, over time, my one-degree shift would take me where I wanted to go.

Author's Bio: 

Joan Pasay passed her grade 10 summer math class, aced grades 11 and 12, and was able to graduate with her friends. She is now a 30-something business and marketing consultant, college instructor, entrepreneur, author, musician, and parent. She lives in beautiful Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, with her family. You can learn more about Joan, find out how to contact her, and read more of her articles at