By Lizzie Patel ’21

Math has always been my favorite subject.

When I was getting ready to go into fifth grade, Mrs. Barnicle asked my dad if I would be interested in taking sixth-grade math, and he agreed without even needing to ask me, knowing that it would be something I would love.

So I was excited last year when Mrs. Scolan invited me to join the MPA group that was going to a local Middle School math competition. That weekend was an interesting one. I was a fifth-grade girl in a group of seventh- and eighth-grade boys, but I still had fun.

That day I met with Chicago’s smartest STEM kids and even took home second place in my group as an individual. That feeling — seeing my name flash up on the screen, hearing the cheers of my new teammates — was a sense of joy so great and so rewarding that I knew this was something I would always do.

Soon afterward, I tried out for a spot in a smaller group that would compete at the MATHCOUNTS regional competition. When we tested all I could think about was the other MPA students I was up against; most of them were in seventh and eighth grade. I thought that I had no chance.

I had to wait until the next morning to find out how I did, and a sense of dread filled me. I thought that there was no way I could be chosen to compete. And then something amazing happened: Mrs. Scolan called my name.

Lizzie Patel, the fifth-grader who sat quietly in the back of math class, was the last member of the team! I felt that same sensation again, that same feeling of pride and happiness. In that moment, I felt like I could do anything.

I didn’t win any medals at the regional competition, but I had a lot of fun. Competing always makes me happy. I was still the youngest there, but I felt more equal. This wasn’t my first time competing, so I felt ready.

My teammates and I will remember the test-taking, the random shouting of answers in the team round, and the countdown round where our two eighth-graders got called up.

Maybe other teams didn’t care about those small moments, but you take that challenge of competing with Chicago’s smartest math students not because you have to, but because you want to show you can measure up. Because you desire that feeling of sheer invincibility, where nothing can stop you.

You don’t need to be the best, but you need to take that risk. And who knows? Maybe you’ll come out on top — or at least make some great memories.

Lizzie is a sixth-grader at Morgan Park Academy.