For me, intelligence is being gritty. When my mom was a teenager in DR, she had to do all the house activity before she left for school: clean, wash the dishes, even go to the river to get water and do the laundry by hand. Still, she always kept her grades in A’s and B’s. But then there was a time when she had to quit school around 14 because her family life became too tough. Time passed, but she never stopped thinking about school. When I was nine, she decided to go back. She finished middle school and high school and the only reason she didn’t go to col- lege was because of money, which is the real issue in my country of why a lot of people quit their dreams. This doesn’t mean my mom is not intelligent. She became a hairstylist. She went to a school for this, got her diploma, and now works as a hairdresser from her house.
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Intelligence is what we learn through the experiences of life: by working hard, thinking critically, and catching different skills from everything we’ve done well. When I was a freshman, I liked to try new things, to find an answer to what didn’t have one, and to work as hard as I could so I could keep my grades up. I used to say that once I had them up, I was not going to let them go down.
That didn’t last forever. I started to care less about school. It was not an intelligent decision, but I let my laziness beat me instead of fighting back. By the end of 11th grade, my grades were so low that only a special project for each class could help me pass. I spent the last weeks of school working harder than ever. I made up credits from classes that I did not do well in before. I was proud of myself. That experience taught me that it’s never too late to step up. You don’t get intelligent by watching others do the job for you. If you don’t get it right the first time, do it again.
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Can one who abandons everything he has and ventures into a foreign land with little more than hope in mankind be considered intelligent? Now, say that he did it because he realized that he could provide better for his family that way, and that the nothing he started with in that new country became a house where his family is now living with him. Would you consider him intelligent? What about a second one who was left behind with three children to raise by herself, and did it so well that none of them chose a dark path? Would you say that she is intelligent? Now take a look at one who aspires to become a soccer player. One whose grade point average doesn’t meet the requirement that his high school imposes on students for them to be part of sports teams. Can he, whose GPA is not even high enough to practice a sport, be considered intelligent? Let us fast-forward a couple of months to find out that he realized what he had to do. He then worked relentlessly to raise his GPA and not only became part of the team that he previously couldn’t join, but also became its vice-captain.

Can we now assume that he is intelligent?

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People think intelligence is that you know everything and you can do anything. I think that you can be very good at one thing and awful at something else and you can still be smart. My cousin back home in Senegal, when we were little his mother never let him go outside and play. She would always make him do his homework, read a book, and then clean the house. He was one of the top students in the whole school. But he never knew what the real world was. He didn’t have any friends besides me. Other boys always bullied him and he never knew how to react. I got into so much trouble helping him but I always knew it was worth it because he also had my back on school work. He knew what life was from the inside but never from the outside. This means that he was book smart not street smart. Another example: My grandmother never went to school. She doesn’t know how to read or write. But she was the one who took care of my family. She was the one who looked for food on the farm to feed us. She was the one who managed the money and paid the bills.
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For my aunt, intelligence is: “To have an intellectual under- standing of things. It can also be to succeed without education.” She was living in the Dominican Republic and studied there. Never went to college, though. Later on in life, my aunt decided to move to the United States because she wanted a better life. Struggling through hard jobs and low wages, she decided to quit and use her talent, which is baking -- making cakes and other desserts and selling them to get money. She succeeded. Almost any Hispanic in Boston was her client. She didn’t attend college, but is she smart? Street smart is when you have common sense. When you look at something from another perspective, as if you have another mind. You can answer questions without consulting a book. My dad was born in the Dominican Republic, in Bani. His family was poor. My dad did farm work. They had a couple of cows and they sold the milk. Sometimes he missed school because he had to wake up early to go to work to get money for the family. My dad was tired of working hard like a mule and getting nothing. He decided to finish school and graduated from college with an engineering degree. My dad came to the United States thinking he was going to live a good life here. He cleaned toilets and offices because they did not accept his college diploma since it was from another country. He got tired and went back to the DR and made his own busi- ness -- an electronics store -- and was making way more money than he expected. He succeeded. Is he smart?
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