To this day, I distinctly remember taking a school-facilitated exam in kindergarten called the COGAT, determining acceptance into the local Gifted and Talented program. My 5-year-old brain failed to comprehend the gravity of the situation and perhaps the meaning that the Gifted and Talented program would have to me years later. I did not pass the test and moved on with life, without giving it a second thought. Four years and four academic grades later, the COGAT test was an optional enrollment opportunity and the urge of acceptance into the GT program was now singularly my own. And a few months after taking the exam, my ecstasy upon learning that I had passed the test was unparalleled to any event I had ever been exposed to in my life until that point. Since then, my love for education and a strong desire for knowledge has only continued to grow through years of academic experience until the present. By actively participating in programs such as Duke TIP, high school robotics and more, I was able to foster that love, especially in the areas of mathematics and science. Through a work ethic based on self-growth and increased motivation in an environment of peer competition, I have come to develop an unconditional love for education. My first failing assignment was in 3rd grade, and my utter disbelief came suddenly and unexpectedly. After looking over the paper and realizing how conceptually lacking I was, I vowed to never let such an atrocity occur again. Since that time, I have and continue to login to online databases such as Khanacademy and Mathway - not just to strengthen current academic knowledge - but also advance and build upon existing concepts. On homework-free weekends and during summer breaks, I sit at my wooden desk and dedicatedly work through advanced math, science, and reading courses and refresh my memory on older curriculum. At home, ensuring a steady flow of new wisdom is consistently seeping into my brain is a major priority of mine. That philosophy alone is what drives me to learn more and to gain more knowledge, not because of external influences like a teacher, but of my own mind and body. My relationship with education can best be described as a catch-22 scenario in and of itself: the more I learn the more I want to learn and consequently the more I take the action of learning into my own hands. No amount of frustrating calculus application problems is ever going to change that. My eagerness for cognitive glory is only furthered by the peers in my schools who share it. Every time I get a grade 3 or 4 points below that of my “smarter friends” - however high of an A that may be - is a reminder to keep improving myself. The question I always ask after missing a test problem is, “What could I have done to 100% secure my chances of answering this question correctly?”. And I use the answer as motivation to strive for greater heights. A little competition never hurt anyone, as the saying famously goes. Academic competition, especially in a healthy school setting, motivates me to rise above my peers because I have come to accept the fact that in the modern day American education system, every standardized test (such as the SAT) is meant to weed out the best from the mediocre. Being consistently challenged to maintain high scores parallel to those of my friends also increases the internal reward when I accomplish something big. Although I do not necessarily condone gloating, there's just an innate satisfaction that comes with being considered the “smartest” of the group or the most academically capable. The only way to continue experiencing that feeling is to embrace academics and follow it with passion. The payoff of working hard in school on the front end is limitless on the back end. Academics have played a major role these past 15 years in shaping the course of my life and paving a path for my future. Through outlets of self-growth and peer motivation, I have been able to cultivate the love and find the importance that academics has to me. The feel-good sense of satisfaction that actively engaging in education instills in me is like an adrenaline rush one has when riding on an extreme rollercoaster. And although I may not share this unusual belief with everyone, to me it's as clear as DNA being double-stranded - I have a genuine thirst for knowledge.