By Katelyn J. Lee
This letter is the 2018 “Letters About Literature” winner for Nevada.
I thought I would never excel at anything. Not math, not violin, not piano, not anything. My goals were always out of reach because I couldn’t soar, couldn’t even fly. Even though I have worked extremely hard to achieve my goals, it just never seemed to happen. These feelings, although common amongst students, perhaps, are definitely a product of my familial culture: my family is South Korean. The attitude toward education maintained by South Koreans is rather strict; in my family, any assignment or test under 96% is considered “failing.” Harsh punishment is the unwelcome result of such a score on an assignment, be it poetry, math, or history. At only 12 years old, these rigorous standards to which I am held have made me feel like a failure even though I have an average of an A in school. And so, I was never able to take pride in my accomplishments because—in spite of my hard work—I was, for all intents and purposes, failing.
I especially feel bad about my accomplishments because I am constantly compared to gifted people who are born with a great talent. For example, a student at my school, “Bob,” excels in everything he does, 1st place in violin competitions nationally and statewide, 1st place in Mathcounts, 2nd place in Science Olympiad. He has so many more accomplishments than I do. Even my own sister has a god-given gift for visual art. Both “Bob” and my sister don’t have to work as hard as I but still win more awards and have more accomplishments. I felt quite uninspired, but then I read your philosophical dialogue Ion, and things changed dramatically.
At first, I felt jealous of Ion because he reminded of me of “Bob” and my sister; Ion could recite Homer beautifully and with little effort. Then, Socrates pointed out that Ion’s talent was the result of a gift from the gods, similar to how “Bob” excels in academics and my sister excels in visual art. I was shocked. I realized that their talent does not entirely come from their hard work; instead, much of it comes from Nature. You also made me think about famous gifted people such as Mozart, who started composing extraordinary musical pieces when he was just three years old. Because Mozart was so young, it was impossible for him to become so talented just by practicing because he only had about a year, at the maximum, to play. I see now that people with these gifts don’t have to work as hard as others for their accomplishments: their gifts, their good work is largely a reflection of the goodness of Nature (or the gods in Ion’s case!) and not as much of a reflection of their own goodness as we may think.
After reading Ion I finally came to understand that the non-gifted person’s accomplishments can only be a product of their own hard work, tenacity, and devotion. You made me realize that I am just as extraordinary as the gifted people because I not only receive awards, but my rewards are solely the product of excellency in me. Even though others’ attitudes about my accomplishments can sometimes be negative, my attitude is now much more positive. You have made me see that I’m not a failure, and I thank you for that.
Katelyn J. Lee is a student at Hyde Park Middle School in Las Vegas. Her letter to Plato, the author of Ion, won first place in the Level 2 category in 2018 for the Letters About Literature competition and advanced to the national level. Letters About Literature is a national reading and writing contest for students in grades 4-12, run through the Library of Congress in partnership with Nevada Humanities. In her free time, Katelyn enjoys reading philosophy and poetry. She also has an interest in music; she played violin for seven years and loves to listen to music.
Image courtesy of Katelyn Lee.