Rhonda Begos-Zolecki

Rhonda Begos-Zolecki

No Excuses

After my son's taekwondo class tonight, he and I got to talking about a lot of stuff. We talked about grades in school, and I told him how I didn't do very well in high school, but that in college I did pretty well. He asked me what my favorite class was in high school. I told him English. I liked english alot....way more than math, although math I learned to really like later on in life. I loved in English that there was room for interpretation and change. I loved discussing things, talking about poetry and stories, and giving our thoughts on what we believed or perceived by what we read. 


I explained to Keaton that in my sophmore year of high school, we lived in Stillwater, Minnesota having moved there from Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1983. We were hit with hard times early on. There were many unknowns and a lot of unexpecteds, but somehow, we managed to make it through those difficult times. My mom was really, really strong, and obvioulsy now being parent, I can only imagine what that must have felt like for her then. 


My sister and I lived in a local shelter in Stillwater called the Anderson shelter. Not very many people knew we were there. It was tough living there at first, because again, it wasn't something that any of us expected to have happen. It was very hard being seperated from my mom, but we knew and believed that things would get better eventually, The time in that shelter ended up being for me one of the most important times in my life. There were people who I went to high school with who were in that shelter. Many of the girls had drug issues, as did some of the boys. My sister and I became friends with so many of them in such a short amount of time. We learned from that experience to no longer judge a book by its cover, because everyone there was probably someone who we had judged before meeting them. Underneath all of what was going on in their young minds were beautiful, awesome, hurting, pained people who just wanted to feel like they could be wanted and loved. 


We still went to high school. We still did our homework. We went to things at school trying our best to not let people know what was going on. 


My English teacher gave us all an extra credit task of learning the speech that Brutus gave for Julius Caesar a the time of his death. Man it was a long speech - and my teacher said that whomever learned it, would get an automatic A at the end of the quarter. I was really excited about learning this speech, and didn't know how I was going to do it, but I knew that I could do it, and knew that if I could do it, that eventually I would. 


I practiced this speech every single night. The counselors at the shelter helped me, the girls who lived with us helped me...they all listened to me every day speak this speech until I had it down. By the time the day had come, I felt prepared, but I was really scared. I knew that if I was the first one to say the whole thing, automatic A. 


I went to class almost sweating. We all enter, and sit down and the bell rings. My teacher says "Alright, anyone got this?" I looked around and no one responded. I hesitatingly raised my hand. My teacher said "Alright Rhonda. Go ahead." 


I began this speech and was a little shaky starting out - but with each word I gained more confidence. There was a moment where a part was coming up that I had been consistent in missing....and I had a moment of silence but found my place. I kept talking, and I saw the other students in the class staring at me in awe....that i had taken all of this time to learn that speech. 


Finally, it got close to the end and I knew for sure that I did in fact have it. Then it was over. Then there was silence, and then everyone clapped, including my teacher. 


I did get the A - but even more than that in my conversation with Keaton today I realized something.


Everyone in that class had a home, except for me. Everyone in that class could go back to their dwellings at the end of the day and spend time with their parents, and have a nice home cooked meal, except for me. Everyone else could hang out with their friends after school, except for me. Everyone else could have a friend come pick them up and not feel embarassed for where they were, except for me. But yet and still, I went back to that shelter and learned that speech. I used what was in front of me...the counselors, and the friends who I had met there to help me get through it and learn it. And when my moment came, I was ready. Not because I wanted to succeed, but because I was at least willing to try really hard, and willing to use anything available to make it happen. All of the most expensive tutors, or amazing classrooms could not have done what those counselors, that shelter and those girls did for me in helping me be ready. I didn't fail - not because I succeeded. I didn't fail, because at least I tried. And with each attempt, you get closer to learning and growing. How can there be failure in that? 


Things did eventually get better, and we finally left the shelter. We cried when we left. We had began to call it home, and felt comfortable with everyone there. Because in that shelter, we didnt' have to try to be someone we weren't. All we had to do was just "be". 


I wish I could say that I knew the whole speech now. All I know is "I have come to bury Caesar, not to praise him." But yet and still....it's a line I know that many do not know. And that line started my path to understanding that circumstance is just that. Circumstance. What comes from circumstance is all up to you. 

No Excuses. 

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