November 9, 2016

KANKANHALLI | Hey, Down There — Below a Standard Deviation

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I think I speak for everyone when I say I love failing prelims. A feeling quite like euphoria sweeps over me when I log on to CMS (or Blackboard, or a department’s surprisingly unaesthetic student portal) and see that 63 percent, after the curve. Have I, at long last, done something right? I proceed to peek at the accompanying histogram of scores: the mean is an 84 percent, and, oh, the median is an 89 percent. Nice — I like what I see. It’s not crowded over here in the 60s — I have plenty of room to stretch my legs, the service is great and people don’t flock to me for any sort of guidance. There’s just something so therapeutic about withdrawing from this wannabe arms race, renouncing the crusade of the Holy GPA. I, for one, am glad that I’ve found the strength within myself to align with this noble cause.

Of course, I’m not the perfect warrior against grade inequality. I do have my moments of weakness; I, too, play the numbers game. If I get an 97 percent on the final, I’ll still get a B in the class. If I do the extra credit and also attend every lecture and doggedly click in on every iClicker question, an A- is an attainable goal. It’s not impossible for fantasy and reality to overlap, I tell myself, no matter how slim the chance… but wait! Do I even want them to? I know it sounds counterintuitive. I’m in college, I’m paying a lot for this quality education, I ought to try hard and do well and take sick days only when I’m actually sick, but, you see, that’s just the more publicized route to success. There’s much less traffic on the back roads — fewer academics disrupting your windshield view, less Saving-of-the-World to fret about, speed: unregulated.

Listen — the pursuit of knowledge is a beautiful thing, and we are all privileged to be able to partake. I support it unconditionally, except when it is on a timer and teems with competition and is painfully quantifiable and regularly offers tangible reason to grieve. It’s weird that something as simple as the gathering of information for self-fulfilling purposes would be such a high-contact sport. Yes, nothing on Earth is truly autonomous; I can put these complaints aside, and maybe if you can’t beat them (which I certainly cannot), join them? I would, but my mom said I couldn’t go, sorry!

Is poor performance really even my fault? Should I really blame myself for not studying enough, waiting till T-Minus 24 Hours before Prelim Day to crack open the textbook? I think not. There’s some truth to the proverb that things worth having (read: respectable scores, pride in oneself, societal approval) don’t come easy, but the frequently overlooked flipside is pretty convincing too: things that come easy tend to come often, and I don’t awfully mind coasting through this fleeting life, hopping from one dropped class to another, being The Friend with Netflix and Good Snacks (mutually exclusive with The Smart Friend), and with every new dawn, choosing a new passion.

It’s not that I would actually refuse a platter of scholastic victories if it were presented to me — I’d probably take it. I imagine it’s pleasant to have your major figured out before you’re a second-semester senior, to visibly contribute to your collegiate community, etc., etc., but in an effort to make myself at home here, in a place above Rock Bottom but well below Sky High, I want to believe that intellectual mobility exists. Guardedly, I will concede that effort has the potential to be fruitful, and there’s a wealth of untaught knowledge that is worthwhile too. (I will report back on the veracity of these beliefs shortly.)

Having so openly admitted my shortcomings, I pause here belatedly to consider my audience. I doubt this is relatable content to the majority of Ivy Leaguers, who, at least from my vantage point, seem like model citizens with good grades and better internships and only the best jobs. I hope, then, that this piece finds the few who cope with the pressures of the literary journey through fatalistic humor and are content cheering their friends on from the bleachers. If I am the only one currently populating this target demographic, then I invite you to join me. Skip a class, fail a prelim, self-sabotage your entire future — it’s kind of fun and only minimally harmful.

Priya Kankanhalli is a sophomore in the College of Arts & Sciences. She can be reached at pkankanhalli@cornellsun.com. Matters of Factappears alternating Tuesdays this semester.

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