If you’ve ever strolled into a prelim feeling like you’re walking into Pompeii right before Mt. Vesuvius erupted, I feel you. If you’ve ever walked out of the same test feeling like you need a date with your most loyal comrades, Ben and Jerry (or possibly Captain Morgan), I’ve been there and done that too. There were a couple of nights that I even came home and cried (ahem, chemistry). The number of times I’ve legitimately whipped out a can of whoop-ass on a test can be counted on one hand. Most of the time my performance is about average or I just get plain bulldozed.
I wasn’t always like this. I used to overachieve like a mofo in high school. Remember the “Cornell Class of” Facebook groups that hosted discussion boards where all the prefrosh listed their academic stats like they were still fighting for a spot in the new freshmen class? Let me be the first to raise my hand because I was one of those tools. I proudly listed my 4.56 GPA, top five percent class ranking, 10 AP test scores and a mile-long list of extracurricular activities.
If any of you could see my transcripts now, in which the highest grade is an A- and my GPA is a 2.89, you’d be like, what happened? Well, to put it simply, life happened.
Not in a teen pregnancy or parents-got-murdered-have-to-support-younger-siblings kind of way. I didn’t get knocked up or acquire a full time job, I merely stopped making my grades the primary focus of my life. This is not to say that I fail to turn in quality work, but simply that I’ve shifted my priorities so that sometimes schoolwork takes a backburner to other things.
I like to justify myself like this. We’re students, so on most forms where we have to list our occupation, we put “Full-time Student.” Being a student is literally correlatable to a career. If you met someone on the street who told you that they routinely got four or five hours of sleep per night because their career path demanded it, you’d probably think they were insane. Yet I have friends who regularly do this to get work done. I’ve also never met a real-life anyone who pulls all-nighters for their job — not to say that this doesn’t happen, but by no means is it as common as it is on a college campus. If these nocturnal habits hit you a little close to home, I have some advice for you: C’s get degrees.
It is some of the best advice that I got as a freshman from the class of 2009 and it made me realize that we as a society put entirely too much stock in grades.
I used to have a superiority complex about C’s. In my mind people who got C’s were almost like lesser life forms. And while that’s a painful truth to admit, it’s basically true. I used to judge people so hard for getting C’s when I would get A’s without even trying. But now that I’m on the flip side of that scenario, it makes it much easier to empathize.
Judging me as a person based solely on what my transcripts say isn’t just stupid, it’s ignorant. Deborah Liu wrote a column about how she felt that her resume didn’t do her justice in expressing who she was. I would say that the same goes for my transcripts. Yes I have a D on my transcript. Yes it’s dominated by grades in the B range. But if you think you can accurately predict how well I’m going to do in the future by stamping some alphabet soup on a piece of paper, you are wrong. A’s are not the only way to prove that you have the ability and drive to work hard and succeed at life. Just look at Mark Zuckerberg. Stockpile of riches besides, he seems like he’s doing pretty well for himself — and the man is a college dropout.
I try my best to measure my triumphs not by the standards of others (*cough*premeds*cough*), but by my own. If I think I did a good job (and let’s be honest, we all know the difference between turning in crappy work and good work) but I don’t get the grade I feel I deserve, my world does not come crashing down around me. I get back in the saddle and take on another rodeo.
In 10 years, I am not going to give a shit about the grade I got on a paper or how I did on a prelim. All that really matters at Cornell in terms of academics is that you leave here with a degree. If C’s are how you get there, all the more power to you. So the next time a prelim violates you in the way that prelims are wont to do, hit me up. My favorite flavor is Phish Food.
Sam Dean is a senior in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Casual WTFery appears alternate Thursdays this semester.