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William was always a sweet, innocent, well-behaved kid in school. He never skipped classes, never bullied anyone or was rude to teachers, AND, he never cheated. All that was about to change.
There was one subject that he just couldn't seem to nail the finals on. Through his Freshman, Sophomore, and Junior years - every time he got to the end of the semester, he failed that math exam. Even though he got great grades on all the classes and tests during the year, and he really DID know the material, had studied hard, there was something about that final test that just had him going blank, every year, and he got F's on them.
He just ended up feeling an intense amount of pressure, fear and anxiety leading up to those final tests and exams, and those feelings messed him up on test day, in a big way.
As if that pressure wasn't enough in his first three years in high school, the final final final math exam, in his senior year, had to be passed in order to graduate.
He studied hard leading up to it, and followed the teacher's advice by studying the night before but going to bed early enough to be rested and ready when the test began. And, of course, when he woke up, all that stress and pressure and anxiety and nerves wiped all of that studying and all of that knowledge right out of his head. He didn't know what to do - his mind was a total and complete blank, and there he was sitting at his desk waiting for the teacher to pass around the final exams.
The teacher gave his usual speech: "no talking, no phones, no cheating, blah, blah, blah" and that was it, time to begin.
Right away Williams mind started talking to him, freaking him out even more, saying things to himself like "oooh, you're gonna fail, you don't know this stuff, you might as well put your pencil down and walk out right now."
Part of him wanted to do just that - walk out - tell the teacher "hey, I'll just take Summer School" or "I'll repeat the 12th grade if I have to." But his parents would absolutely kill him, would be so disappointed in him, and really, he would be disappointed in himself too.
And, with only 30 minutes left, and only 10 out of the 50 questions left on the exam, he felt totally defeated, done, ruined.
On the verge of tears, on the verge of a nervous breakdown, desperate, William noticed that the kid sitting in front of him had already finished his test, and he had just put it down on the floor next to him.
With 30 minutes left, and 40 more questions to answer, AND a finished test sitting right in front of him, he felt he had to take the risk. He copied every single one of the answers from the other kid's test, and when the bell rang he had just finished copying over the last answer - cheating, cheated, the whole thing. He had figured out how to cheat and did.
He was just happy to be done and tried to put the whole cheating thing behind him. A couple of weeks later, his guidance counselor called him to let him know he had passed. He was overjoyed - had been so worried that he wouldn't graduate on time, and his parents were so relieved to hear that he had finally passed a math exam and it was the one that mattered most!
But that same night, he started to feel it - guilt - he had cheated, plain and simple, and there was no getting around it. Nobody else knew, but he did, and that was enough to make him feel really bad. He was now one of the cheaters.
On graduation day, as he was standing on stage getting his high school diploma, with his parents and everyone cheering for him, all he could hear was a little voice in his head telling him "YOU DON'T DESERVE THIS. DON'T DESERVE THE DIPLOMA. DON'T DESERVE THE CHEERS."
Even though he cheated, graduated and no one found out, he carries that guilt around with him always. He did not earn it.
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