Never Say Never: My Journey Through Math

By Sonam Rikha ’24

I will never take a math class again, I promised myself. It was my last day in high school. I proudly exited out of my virtual AP Calculus class and then hurled my calculus notebook into the trash. Despite the deep disgust I’d developed for analyzing functions, I’d miraculously aced my math class and passed the AP test, all while during the pandemic. Only a few months earlier, my head had lain sullenly on the table as my group stared with confusion at math problems.

two math medals
Some math awards I won as a kid

When I discuss my strong apathy for high school math, my friends are often shocked to learn about my tortured history with math. As a kid, I found joy in computing arithmetic problems and helping my peers with difficult math concepts that came naturally to me. Maybe it was my math teachers, or maybe it was the ease I felt when answering math problems, but math became MY subject. I was known as the math queen in my grade and was the two-time champion of my school’s annual math competition.

Once I entered my high school trigonometry class though, the joy I once felt quickly disappeared and was replaced with annoyance. Whether it was the teaching style of my high school math teachers or the increase in difficulty that comes with high school math, I became lost. As THE math person in all of elementary and middle school, math was my source of pride and unhealthily fueled my self-esteem. Even though I aced all of my high school math classes, the interest and excitement that I once had completely diminished. My new love for humanities began to fill the void that was once occupied by math.

three students on zoom
My (camera-shy) Calc study group

When I was supposed to be working on calculus problem sets, I often let my mind wander about all the amazing humanities classes I would take in college and how I would never need to take a math class again. So, when I read Pomona’s area 5 general education requirement, my heart broke a little because I wouldn’t be able to avoid taking a college-level math class. The beauty of Pomona’s general education requirements is that they’re very flexible, and each of the six has a variety of fascinating classes you can take to fulfill that requirement. While deep down, I knew I would take some sort of math class in college, I was in denial. I convinced myself that it would be a math class that was sort of applicable to my interests, like statistics.

Unfortunately, you need to take calculus in order to take statistics at Pomona. Since my brain erased all the calculus knowledge that I had attained my senior year, I decided to do the one thing I’d never thought I’d do: take Calculus. DUN DUN DUN.

The thrill that I experienced my senior year when throwing my calculus notebook into the trash now turned into regret. The idea of taking a college-level math class online only increased my disappointment. Surprisingly though, I don’t hate my calculus class. I actually kinda … like it? Well, maybe “like” is too strong of a word but having a small study group to work through homework problems and resources such as office hours and mentor sessions has made my experience with calculus (so far) enjoyable. So, in the immortal words of Justin Bieber and Jaden Smith, “Never Say Never.”