MARION, IN–Grover Cleveland Middle School student Jamie Ganser, 14, expressed mortification and a desire to die Monday upon learning that she had won the 2001 Eighth Grade Academic Achievement Award.
"Now the whole school is going to think I'm the biggest geek," Ganser told best friend and classmate Lacey Richards, who has a socially acceptable B-minus average. "I'm not that smart. It's just that my classes were really easy this year."
Ganser said she was "shocked" to learn that she was to be lauded for her academic performance, as she had been careful all year to keep her level of achievement low enough to avoid attention.
"Last year, [social-studies teacher] Mrs. Knauf was so happy with my essay 'What Liberty Means To Me,' she made me get up and read it to the class," Ganser said. "I learned my lesson from that: This year, I vowed to do much worse, but it looks like I failed."
As part of her plan, Ganser answered teachers' questions only if called upon and never raised her hand, even if she knew the answer. Though she enjoys reading, citing John Steinbeck and Ray Bradbury as two of her favorite authors, Ganser was careful only to do so at home, carrying copies of nothing more literary than Teen People to read in study hall.
Ganser also took pains never to take on extra-credit assignments or study too hard for tests.
"Only the biggest dorks are all into getting good grades," Ganser said. "I may get good grades, but I'm not into it. It just sort of happened by accident."
"There are lots of geeks they could've given this award to who would've totally loved it," Ganser continued. "But, no, they want to ruin my life. What did I do to deserve this?"
According to Grover Cleveland principal Dr. Myles Auletta, Ganser richly deserved the award.
"Besides earning straight A's, Jamie participated in band and Spanish Club, and had an excellent attendance record," Auletta said. "Jamie is a top student, but her teachers say she's not much of a leader. The committee felt this award would be exactly the confidence boost she needs to get out there and really shine."
To Ganser's horror, Auletta announced the winners of the end-of-year awards over the school's P.A. system during his morning address. Unaware she would win the prize, Ganser did not even have a chance to stay home sick the day of the announcement.
"I was just sitting there during homeroom, and Mr. Auletta comes on and says, 'Congratulations to the following students...' Out of nowhere, he says my name. The whole homeroom turned and looked right at me."
Ganser said she tried to pretend she didn't hear her name announced. Her attention-deflecting efforts were foiled, however, when homeroom teacher Vicki Dresser said, "How nice for you, Jamie!" and encouraged students to "give our homeroom's very own celebrity scholar a round of applause." A handful of Ganser's classmates half-heartedly complied while Ganser blushed and paged through her algebra book.
Reviewing the full list of awardees posted on the glass window of the school's main office, Ganser's humiliation only grew.
"Vonja Dagenhardt is that weird girl who carries all her books for the entire day with her to every class," Ganser said. "Ryan Leeven is a total know-it-all who everyone hates–his parents won't even let him celebrate Halloween. These are the people I'm forever linked to."
Reflecting on her accomplishment, Ganser said she should have worked harder to avoid such a fate.
"I knew I never should have toughed it out and gone to school all those times I was feeling sick last winter," Ganser said. "Then there was the spelling bee. I couldn't decide if I'd feel stupider spelling the words right or wrong, so I just gave the right answers. Just look where it got me."
Ganser said another strike against her may have been her high scores on recent end-of-year standardized tests.
"I didn't worry about doing too well, because the scores are all kept secret," Ganser said. "I scored in at least the 95th percentile on everything, but whenever anyone asked me how I did, I was like, 'I can't remember.' I thought I was safe, but obviously I wasn't."