It was by a series of accidents that I became a math professor

Until now it feels like being a professor is in the background of my life, something that randomly happened to me as I was completely distracted by, or fixing, or running away from something else. I constantly tell myself that one day, I will actually focus on math.

When I was growing up my dad would bring a big orange book, with very small font size, full of math problems written in French. I’d sit next to him by our iron stove and he’d read the French problems to me, then I’d translate them to English and solve them. I loved his accent and outrageously wrong pronunciation when he attempted to translate to English math himself. I solved all the problems in that book by candle light, since we almost never had electricity. These are my first memories of serious math: with my dad, a large orange French book, warmth from an old iron stove and candle light.

My second serious math was in grade 11. We got a new math teacher, fresh out of college, from Beirut, handsome, and I had a crush. After his first class I went home and studied and solved three entire math books: Geometry and Space, Calculus, and Trigonometry. I had to solve these books as fast as I could. I thought that if I already knew all the math that was meant to be taught, I could just sit in class, not pay attention, look pretty, and flirt.

When the school year ended, my math teacher left a note in my Geometry and Space book, on the whole long side of the first page, in French: “Tu es pure comme la neige blanche avant qu’elle ne touche la sol.”

You are pure like the white snow right before it touches the ground.

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