In my younger and most vulnerable years, my life took a very painful turn. I felt the walls of earth closing in on me. Every step I took felt as if I was stepping on so many broken bottles and thorns while walking a very dark path; not knowing who I was, where my journey started or where I was heading.

I couldn’t believe that I failed Grade 11 twice and became the laughing stock of my community. I became the subject of every conversation around me. My life was drowning in deep abusive sorrow; tears and misery became my closest friends that visited me unexpectedly and uninvited; they all seemed to know their way around me.

My parents didn’t want anything to do with me, as I was an embarrassment to them and my teachers used me as a good example of a failure. Was it so hard for them to accept that I’d failed? I thought. All I ever wanted was a push in the right direction.

Each and every day presented so many challenges and hardships to me. I couldn’t take the criticism anymore. I was tired of people unjustly calling me a failure even though I wasn’t the first to ever repeat a grade. Enough was enough. I wanted to give up on my life. Maybe Heaven was a better place; maybe there I would find supportive souls that wouldn’t laugh at me when I fell, but would instead offer me a helping hand.

I was ready to depart from this cruel world, but I feared what my absence would do to my younger sister. Who would protect her when I was gone? Who would help her with her homework when I was no longer around? It occurred to me that a real man never runs away from his problems and I knew I had to fight tooth and nail.

I didn’t go to school when they reopened in January. I was scared to go there and face everyone. I had been in Grade 11 from 2011 and it was then 2013. Am I a tortoise or a human being? I wondered. In my mind, I was done with books and there was no way I was going back there.

I locked myself in my room; my parents didn’t know that I wasn’t at school until one of my teachers swung by my house to talk to me and he brought me some books to cover. “I would hate seeing another young man neglecting their studies. Even I’ve failed, but today I am making a huge contribution towards education”, he said.

The next morning, I found myself in class, not feeling scared anymore and I didn’t care what they would say. A month later we wrote our first Agricultural Science common paper and I got the highest mark. Everyone thought I’d copied: “How could a huge failure get so many marks?” asked one of my classmates.

His words somehow touched me. They inspired me to go even further and since then, I have become a top performer in every subject. I was so proud of myself that learners from the lower grades were coming to me for assistance. I didn’t tell my parents anything, but they found out eventually from one of my teachers.

I made it to Matric in 2014 and I still went on to dominate with my excellence. My parents were so happy. I managed to overcome criticism and I defeated negativity.

To know a good apple, you must first taste a bad apple. You must experience the bad side of life before you can live the better side of it. And don’t ever judge a book by its cover.