I’ll never forget that first report card. I was 9-years-old and in Mrs. Hassle’s 4th grade class. I waited with anticipation for my very first real grade report. I knew I was pretty smart – I’d get all As. There was that one C I received during a test during the first week, but that surely wouldn’t affect anything. It wasn’t even a test on a class lesson – it was an assessment of one of our summer reading books. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. I despised that book. It didn’t even make sense. Reading was my passion, but I preferred the Anne of Green Gables or Judy Moody kind of adventure. Not some situation happening way beneath my world. I mean, it was in the ocean – that’s not even real life.
Mrs. Hassle called my name and I quickly scampered to the front of the classroom. She handed me the mustard yellow envelope and I grabbed it with pride. As I made my way toward the door to leave for the day, I was already peeling it open. I pulled out the stark white piece of paper too quickly, ripping an edge. I scanned the report.
Social Studies: A
Language Arts: C
I choked back tears and forced a smile. “How could this be happening?” I thought to myself. English and grammar are my strong suit. It didn’t make sense. How could one book about the useless ocean ruin my entire grade.
“What’d you get?” a classmate asked. I looked around as the rest of the students were cheering about their first report card grades.
“All As” I responded. I’d never let anyone know the truth. It was humiliating.
From that day forward, I vowed to never get a C again. And I didn’t. In fact, I never even got a B after 5th grade. For 7 years (6th through 12th grade), I never once got less than an A on my report card. I was (and arguably still am) the ultimate perfectionist, and I wouldn’t let my grade report be anything less than perfect.
Throughout school, I remember friends complaining about their parents putting pressure on them to do their homework or badgering them about starting a paper. I could never relate because I did that to myself. I forced myself to sit down and study. If I didn’t understand something, I’d study harder. I’d teach myself until I got it. Memorizing the motions wasn’t enough. I had to truly know it.
Today, I’m officially a college junior. I’ve received my 4th grade report from Vanderbilt, marking my 4th semester’s completion. I’m halfway there. But it’s not quite the same anymore. I don’t get all As. For the first time since elementary school, my grade reports are not perfect. And I hate it.
I know I’m in a completely different league; I’m surrounded by incredibly intelligent people who worked just as hard as me throughout school. In class, I could be sitting beside the next Bill Gates or the future president. But somehow, it feels the same. I don’t feel like I’m at a top 15 university where everyone is smart. I feel like I’m still in that 4th grade classroom and the pressure I put on myself to get perfect grades has not gone anywhere.
This past semester was my hardest semester yet. I anxiously awaited my grade report for days, refreshing the “Academic Record” page by the hour. I warned my parents that my GPA might fall. The funny thing is, they weren’t concerned. They knew I had worked hard and figured whatever grades I got were good enough. It wasn’t them, it was me. I was the one who wanted perfection.
Even though I know in the back of my mind that obtaining a 4.0 for 8 semesters at Vanderbilt is virtually impossible, I kick myself for not achieving that. I study for hours and hours for tests that are not that difficult and edit papers many times more than necessary. I skip birthday dinners and Thursday nights out because I believe that one or two extra hours of studying will truly make the difference.
But I’m not in elementary or middle or high school anymore. Tests are more about application than memorization, and sometimes you just can’t process any more information. I become frustrated with myself for not getting an A, yet I don’t feel as if I could’ve done more. I find myself realizing that I really did do my best. So why can’t I just accept that and move on?
Well, it’s not that easy. But after two years of college, it’s definitely getting easier. I’ve found that grades matter, but as long as you have the cutoff GPA, you’re fine. It’s me who is going to land me that dream job, not a number or a letter. Two of the worst test grades I have received at Vanderbilt came during the same week that I landed a spot at a sophomore conference with Deloitte Consulting and reached my $200,000 goal for Dance Marathon. My dad calls them “Probably the most significant accomplishments of your life thus far.” How’s that for you? My worst grades and my greatest successes in one 7-day span.
I’m not saying that we should all stop caring about getting As and should ignore the relevance of our GPAs – I couldn’t even do that if I tried. But there’s more to college than grades, just like there was more to 4th grade than that C. Sure, I never forgot it, but I also never forgot the Fourth Grade Play or winning the local basketball league’s “championship game.” It’s time to relax a little, and I know it.
Here’s to 2 more years of anxiously refreshing the “Academic Record” page and a lifetime of despising 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.