“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

The pencil rapped lightly on my head, a not-so-subtle reminder from dad that I had the wrong answer to the math problem at hand. Thoroughly annoyed, I scrunched my eyes and thought hard. Fractions danced behind my closed lids, one of them the golden ticket that would end the slew of after-dinner math questions.

I was lucky. The inner-city students I tutored many years later never had the privilege of a pencil tap to the head. In the daily struggle to make ends meet, academic achievement was a luxury, not a household priority. We begged their families to encourage school attendance and take an active interest in their homework. Our pleas often fell on deaf ears.

I was lucky to receive this spectacular education from my parents, who taught me focus, dedication, and work ethic from an early age. Who spent their evenings unselfishly teaching me math and who nudged the bar up whenever I came within reach.

That bar is now mine to set, and I will strive to make it visible to those for whom education remains a luxury. I will continue my efforts to tutor, mentor, and plant the motivational seeds that self-sustain over time.

And above all, I will keep the sharp sting of a No. 2 pencil always present.

— Preethi Krishnaswamy