My Brother Went to an Ivy League School and I Didn’t

Everyone knew that one kid when they were growing up — the kid who knew the answer to every question, the kid who aced tests without trying, the kid who understood things in 5 minutes but it took 5 hours for everyone else to get it. That kid lived in the room next to mine for my entire life. He was my brother.

The first time I remember thinking that my brother might be a genius was when I was 8 and he was 6. In my second grade class, we were memorizing our multiplication facts. I was sitting at the dinner table with my dad working my way through doubling. We hadn’t gotten very far. The question was “What’s 2x2?” While I sat there and racked my brain for an answer (to this day, math has never been my best subject), my brother came in through the kitchen.

“It’s four,” he said.

There were signs before then that my brother showed an interest in academia. At his preschool graduation, he proudly announced that, in the future, he wanted to attend Harvard University and become a Supreme Court Justice. The boy was 4 at the time.

The multiplication incident was the first time I felt like my brother was smarter than I was. The trend only continued as we both went through school. It didn’t help that our father perpetuated it. Through elementary, middle and high school, my brother got straight A’s. I couldn’t get rid of the two B’s that marred my report card until I got to high school. Whenever we would bring our report cards home, my brother and I always raced in the house to show our dad. He would look at my brother’s first, and then he would look at mine. “You can do better than B’s, sweetheart,” my dad would say. His words sent me into a 30-minute crying fit that was only calmed when my mom assured me that they were still proud of me. It may go without saying, but I trace all of my stress over success back to my childhood.

It didn’t take long for people outside of our household to realize that my brother learned and thought differently than most kids. When he was in the second grade, he was moved into the program for “gifted and talented” students. The program allowed him to learn high-level material at an accelerated rate. They also got better field trips. My parents encouraged me to join the program too, but you had to test into it. At the time, I didn’t feel like I was anywhere near gifted or talented. So, I stuck to my regular classes for all of elementary school.

When I was 13 and going into the seventh grade, my family moved to Florida. My brother went to school out of the district so he could still be in the program for advanced students. I started the school year still in regular classes. By October, though, my English teacher took special notice in me. He insisted that I be moved out of his course and into the gifted English class. Once I made the switch, all of the other students told me that it was practically impossible to get an A in the class. When I received a 93% on the first project, I was more than excited. That was when I started gaining confidence in my abilities. I realized that I had been selling myself short on what I could do, and with some extra effort, I could be a standout student.

After my first gifted class, I never took a “regular” class again. If it wasn’t honors or AP, I didn’t want it. I also promised myself that I was going to get straight A’s all through high school. A promise I was able to keep. This entire time, my brother continued to excel in school. Despite my efforts to rival him, my newfound enthusiasm for learning couldn’t keep up. About three months into my freshman year of high school, my brother, once again, proved that he was the smarter sibling. I was getting into the car after volleyball practice when my mom told me that she had some exciting news.

“I went to a meeting about your brother today,” she said. “All of his teachers agree that he is so advanced that it would be best for him to skip a grade.”

My brother went from being a sixth-grader to an eighth-grader in 12 hours. I was shocked. Skipping an entire grade did nothing to his GPA. A sixth grade class was the same as an eighth grade class for him, and the results were inevitably A’s.

By this time, I had begun to realize that intelligence was not the only important attribute a person could have: organization, compassion, people skills, emotional intelligence. It took me a while to realize that I had attributes that my brother didn’t have. They just didn’t always show up on a school test.

I still strived to do well in school, but instead of it being about “beating” my brother, it became about me being the best version of myself. I pushed myself in class and my extracurricular activities. I ended up graduating third in my class, and I was accepted into the University of Florida with the Bright Futures Scholarship. My dad had his heart set on me being valedictorian, but I was content with being third. I knew I worked hard to get there.

The next year, my brother graduated as the valedictorian of his class. I cried at graduation. No matter how often we had fought as children or how insecure I may have felt growing up, my brother was my best friend. After being accepted into a few Ivy League schools, he eventually decided that he belonged at Columbia University in New York City. It was a long way from Gainesville, but I supported his decision.

I miss our late-night coffee runs and the times when we would team up to make fun of our dad. He now loves New York and Snapchats me to tell me how school and life are going. Occasionally, there’s a phone call. We laugh about his unorganized lifestyle, and we debate about exam questions we missed.

My dad still asks me if I regret not pushing harder to have become valedictorian. The answer is that I don’t. The biggest lesson that my brother taught me is that other people’s achievements don’t have to overshadow your own. We can all be successful in our own ways. Our successes may not look like those of our parents, or our friends or our siblings. In my case, my achievements were not the same as my brothers, but that’s what made them mine.