From the Former Dreamer

From the Former Dreamer

For a long time, I had been seeing myself not as an award-winning high school graduate with a promising future, but a fool who had screwed every single chance to win a better title. That is part of the reason why I named myself Zepto, a unit prefix in the metric system denoting a factor of $10^{−21}$ — it reminded me of the sense of extreme negligibility, in other words, a reflex of my inferiority complex.

As a retired informatics contestant, satisficing was not the kind of word I would choose to describe my competition experience. At APIO 2019, an incorrect task-solving order contributed to a 90-point decline in my score, costing a conceivable chance of winning a gold medal. Analogously, before the second competition day at NOI 2019, a sleepless night caused by anxiety led to an unresponsive state the next morning, again resulting in an undesired ending of my OI career.

These do not necessarily mean that I am not competent in the prize I had been pursuing. The first time I participate in the NOIp, the beginning of an Olympiad in Informatics season in mainland China, I came back with a score of merely 160 points at the age of 16. However, after a diligent year, I nearly tripled it by winning 439 points, which only a handful of my peers could achieve. In the following season, the progress I have made was refreshing, considering my lack of experience in this matter and the fact that most of my competitors started to learn coding at a younger age. I was given great expectations by my predecessors, yet the reality of my failure at the final was heart-breaking.

During the past year of preparing for the NCEE, the process of repetitive training gave me a precious chance to reevaluate my time struggling with coding. It occurred to me that although I did not have the opportunity to enjoy the taste of success, what I did learn is the proper way to deal with present failure, the courage to face any possibilities, and the growth of an open heart to accept the diversity of the society we live in. As I started to reconsider what my name means to me, it revealed that the inner self-inadequacy has already been replaced with humbleness to the world around us.

Being a member of The Attached Middle School of Jiangxi Normal University is something I’ve always been proud of. The long-time absence caused by continuous training outside the campus did make me feel less attached to her, but our OI team helped me regain my lost sense of belonging. Sounds as cliché as it is, “we are family” is the best sentence I could found to describe this fabulous group.

I can still well remember the first time I visited the training room with DOFY, a senior student who is now studying at Peking University, back in the boiling summer of 2017. That night the electricity was down, and we don’t care, since there was no air-conditioner at all. Two crappy desktop computers sitting on two battered desks which may have the same age as mine, that’s where I began – I was still superficial, still too tender, still “lack that air of experience the great rivers have”, and I naively believed that through sleepless-nights diligence, I could snatch a chance to win over the old-money schools, which have way more experience and way better resources than my alma mater.

And somehow, we did it – we seized a place for us in the majestic and giant empire of Olympiad in Informatics. Our school has made it to the top 1 in this field in Jiangxi Province, within just three years, and I’m thrilled to see the younger generations are reaching their steps out further. All of our efforts are not always recognized, and there are always setbacks, correspondingly, we are always in faith.

I have left for the Chinese University of Hong Kong to pursue a higher achievement in computer science, and my time for dreaming is about to meet the very end. As a former dreamer, I look back, and I see thousands of better versions of mine, running towards the promising future. Their game is on, and they will thrive.