If you asked senior Will Green what the capital of Belarus is, he’d immediately say “Minsk.”
Green isn’t consulting Google — he’s reciting them straight from memory. And it isn’t just countries’ capitals that he knows. It’s birthdays he’s heard only once, all the pretest’s in Mr. Sandoy’s physics class or what was shouted across the playground in fifth grade recess one day.
“A lot of people know me as the kid who doesn’t forget,” Green said.
Green’s been “not forgetting” since his parents bought him an interactive globe for his seventh birthday and he memorized all the countries and their capitals within weeks.
“Truthfully, we weren’t paying attention to Will [playing with the globe],” said Will’s mom Kelly Green. “But one day he took a [quiz] on all the African countries, and he knew them all just by the shape.”
Green’s memory has always set him apart from others, but African country fun facts and memorized birthdays never got him very far socially with his fellow classmates. In elementary school, Green learned the hard ward way that reciting his classmate’s address that he was told only once weeks ago would get him astonished looks and pointed whispers.
But after years of hiding the thing that had at times socially isolated him, he’s learned to appreciate his memory — it’s become one of his favorite things about himself.
It’s not uncommon for random people to stop Green in the hallway and ask what their birthday is. Usually he’ll know the answer, even if he’s only met them once. Green’s memory has become a “party trick” among his friends.
“People will pull up lists of countries and go through them and try to stump me,” Green said.
But it’s only on a very off day that he won’t remember something. Green says its like having a safe in his brain, and when someone says a trigger word, the safe is unlocked and the answer comes to mind.
For most of high school, Green restrained from announcing the obscure fact about his chem partner to avoid the comments and looks that he knew too well. So when people test him for 20 minutes on countries or tell him their birthday to see if he’ll remember it days later, It doesn’t annoy Green — for him the interactions are a nice change. For so long, he had isolated himself from others out of fear of judgement.
“There’s this weird threshold of, how much can you know about someone to make them feel good, and how much can you know to make them feel uncomfortable,” Green said.
Green had known he’s been treated differently ever since he brought his memorized globe in for show-and-tell in first grade, when other kids asked how he knew the facts he was spouting off. But in a few more years when his fellow fifth graders found out that he knew some of his classmate’s addresses, a rumor went around that Green was a stalker.
Green was hit with the harsh reality that people don’t always accept what they don’t understand, especially when those people are other 10-year-olds. His classmates didn’t understand that he wasn’t trying to memorize their addresses, he just never forgot them. At 10 years old he couldn’t take the rumors and whispers, so he began to keep his talent hidden.
“I think it shut me down as a person, because when you’re 10, you just don’t know how to process it,” Green said.
Green started analyzing his conversations — he didn’t want to be considered “weird” or make people uncomfortable in school. He’d always felt like an extrovert, but instead of chatting with friends in school he kept his head down and did his work.
Green’s globe served him well in his elementary school geography bee — first place in fourth grade and top three in fifth. But as the rumor crushed his spirits, it also seemed to change his memory — in sixth grade Green thinks he placed top ten, “at best.”
Green spent middle school avoiding the reputation he’d built for himself, remembering the “Oh my god, are you stalking me?” that he’d heard anytime he seemed to remember too much about a classmate.
Then a year and a half ago, Green slipped up in his junior IB Psychology class — he said someone’s birthday. But the reaction wasn’t at all what he expected.
The 10-year-old in Green was terrified for a repeat of the stalker rumor that plagued his fifth grade year, but his Psych classmates seemed more interested than uncomfortable.
“That day kind of catapulted me into this chain reaction, where one person would ask ‘What’s their birthday,’ and then ‘What’s her birthday’ or pull up the whole list of the world’s capitals,” Green said.
He’s even revisited his geography glory days — history is his favorite subject. When his memory started to become a point of pride rather than isolation, he thinks his ability to remember naturally improved.
“Honestly, it’s really fun when people that I don’t know come up to me like, ‘Oh, my God Will, do you know all this stuff?’” Green said. “Growing up, I thought that everyone just thought it was weird.”
Not that he doesn’t get the occasional fifth grade flashback. Green says to this day, he’ll get a judgmental “How do you know that?” But instead of worrying about what a handful of people think or say, he now focuses on everyone else that sees his memory as a talent. Green’s memory has always made him stand out — and now he knows it’s in a good way.