Timing is Everything by Atef Amri, Tunisia

Reading other people’s stories, I realize how hard it is to have grown up in war zones, conflict areas, and to have gone through major losses. As for me, I did not grow up in a conflict zone and did not see loved ones die at my sight, but I still believe that my life has been dramatic.

At first, I thought “Who am I to talk about a time I overslept when there are people here who witnessed people dying in front of them or suffered sexual assault?” But then, it hit me that it is not a competition and that we are here to share our stories with each other, to inspire one another and not to compete with each other. In the light of this realization, here is my story about that one time I overslept on a national exam day and how it completely changed my life.

“Why is it surprisingly very bright today?” I thought as I woke on Monday, June the 8th 2015 at 8:50 AM. I looked at my phone, and when I realized what time it was, it made sense to me: it wasn’t exceptionally bright; I overslept and woke up late.

You have to understand that the Baccalaureate exams decide to a very great extent – if not the full extent – your future. Those Nationals Exams take place for a week at the end of the senior secondary school year. Also, the physics exam is the most important exam because it has the highest credits.

Keep in mind that I’ve never overslept a day in my academic life, the only time I did was the day of the baccalaureate physics exam. I panicked, and my heart started beating so fast, and I was wishing and holding on to the possibility that it was a dream, and I might snap out of it any time then, and the more I hold on to that delusional hope, the more painful it felt. I took a cab, and I headed to my school thinking about what I should say and do, seeing the possibility of failing the baccalaureate foregrounding the list of things that might happen. When I got to the school, reality sunk in: I was too late – a whole hour late to be accurate.

When I went inside, the principal asked what I was doing in the administration building when I was supposed to be flipping the pages of the physics exam. I tried to summon words to explain the situation, but I wasn’t able to until I was taken to the infirmary and I was given water and some kind of pills to calm me down. The look of bewilderment and shock on the principal’s face as I stood there helplessly trying to explain the situation was a premonition of the fact that there’s nothing that can be done. In fact, as I was sitting in the infirmary, the principal showed up an hour later telling me that after so many calls and negotiations, it was impossible for me to sit for the physics exam which means that I would get a zero. I remember I thought that my life was over. That high-school diploma was not only a milestone in a person’s life, but it was also a life-changing moment and the chances of me not getting it got very high.

I ended up getting the baccalaureate. I got it with a very low overall grade but I still did, which as far as I’m concerned is somewhat an achievement. Before that incident, I was planning to do engineering, architecture, or something like that. However, with a zero in physics, I had a very low overall grade which didn’t allow me to go into those schools. I didn’t want to lose hope, so I decided to look at the bright side. The truth is that I had never really wanted to do engineering; it was more of an obligation from my family and society, but at that moment I was liberated from that burden. I decided that I would be an English major and if I don’t like it, I will change to something else. What happened is that I fell in love with my major.

For the first time in my life I didn’t feel obliged to go to school and study. I found the will to participate in activities and to be more involved in the community because I was genuinely happy with what I was doing. I got involved in NGOs like AIESEC and Young Arab Voices, and I applied for a one-year Exchange Program to the US. By the end of the first year of university, I had won a prize for being the top student in my university, I had won with 3 of my friends the first place in a National Debate Championship, and I did end up going to the US for a year.

What I thought was a curse turned out to be the best thing that had happened to me. Sometimes I think of all the possible things that might have happened if I had woken up on time that day, but then I look around me, and I realized that I wouldn’t change a thing about my life right now.

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