I’ve seen the many ways that the word gifted can affect an individual, whether it’s a newfound sense of identity, a sense of relief, or, my favorite, a realization that there are other people out there like you. In seeing this over the last few years, I’ve learned that for many, the word gifted is a community. It is a place to call home. It is a safe space. It is a place to be yourself. It is a place to not be ashamed. It is a tribe.
Gifted—it’s a loaded word. It’s a word that means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. For some, it’s merely a synonym for smart. For others, it’s a form of classification. And for many, it’s an identity, a community, and a way of viewing the world. But these definitions are by no means stagnant; they change throughout your life and morph as both your needs and your knowledge develop. Throughout all the twenty-two years that I’ve been alive, gifted has meant many things.
Like many, my first exposure to the word gifted was in grade school, when I was formally identified. At that time, the word gifted meant that I was smart, and that I got to go hang out with the other gifted kids one day a week. This schema of giftedness stuck with me throughout grade school, and it was slowly shaped by my elementary gifted teacher, Mrs. G. While I’m sure Mrs. G. said many wise and insightful things, one of her mottos has always stuck with me: “Being gifted doesn’t mean you’re better or smarter— it means you learn and think differently.” Simple, yet powerful.
As I advanced into middle school, gifted programming started to fade—it was one pull-out class per day—and my view of giftedness shifted. Being gifted was no longer something fun; it was something shameful. Gifted meant nerd. Gifted meant geek. Gifted meant elitist. Gifted meant try-hard. All of these negative stereotypes associated with giftedness became extremely salient as my peers started to see the gifted kids as different—and, if you remember anything about middle school, being different is most definitely not a compliment. These stereotypes temporarily soured my view of the word gifted. But through it all, my gifted pull-out sessions were my safe haven and the only times when I could be myself.
As I got to high school, giftedness no longer seemed to matter because the word gifted was replaced with “AP.” Gifted was no longer part of my identity; it had been replaced with being good at school and getting 5s (the top score) on AP tests. This was the case until senior year, when I was writing my senior thesis for AP English. We were allowed to write about any topic we wanted, as long as we could relate it back to a “significant literary work.” Ultimately, I decided to take two of my favorite books—Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger, and An Abundance of Katherines, by John Green—and compare the two main characters who, despite very different outcomes, have a lot in common, including being smart and feeling out of place. In writing this paper, I came to the conclusion that both of them were gifted—and I was reminded that I was gifted too.
After coming to this revelation, I turned to a variety of gifted resources—primarily SENG (Supporting the Emotional Needs of the Gifted)—and kept seeing myself in all of them. I knew that I was gifted, but I never knew the true depth of what giftedness meant: the overexcitabilities, the sensitivities, and the asynchronicity. Needless to say, my definition of the word gifted was changed forever. Over the next year or so, I continued to research giftedness and reflect on the resources. By the time that I got to college, I knew that I had to get involved with the gifted community in one way or another. This dream became reality when I—a college freshman at the time—applied for an internship with SENG and, much to my surprise, was hired.
Now, three years later, I am about to graduate from The Ohio State University, and though much has changed, I am still with SENG. Through SENG, I have had countless opportunities to get in touch with the gifted community, and I’ve seen the many ways that the word gifted can affect an individual, whether it’s a newfound sense of identity, a sense of relief, or, my favorite, a realization that there are other people out there like you. In seeing this over the last few years, I’ve learned that for many, the word gifted is a community. It is a place to call home. It is a safe space. It is a place to be yourself. It is a place to not be ashamed. It is a tribe.
As I grow older, I’m sure that my definition of gifted will continue to change, and that the definition will be different in different settings. While the word gifted will mean one thing in my academic career, it will mean something entirely different in my personal life and in my nonprofit work. But I will never forget the many definitions that the word gifted has had throughout my life. It will always be a humble reminder that I learn and think differently. It will always be something for which I will be afraid of being judged. It will always be my ability to pick things up quickly and be good at school. It will always be a way to understand myself. It will always be a family.
But this is merely what gifted means to me. So, with that, I want to ask: What does gifted mean to you?