October 3, 2019

WAITE | What’s in a GPA?

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My GPA is below a 3.0. The campus culture frowns at that fact. It tells me that I have a bad GPA.

I have been trying to resist the urge to agree.

I go through these cycles throughout the semester where I become frustrated with Cornell’s atmosphere. Recently, I was fully submerged in that air of discontent. It is not because of prelims —though I’m not particularly ecstatic about those either.

What instead frustrates me is the ambiguity behind the meaning of success on this campus. If being successful is defined as attaining some accomplishment, then one would think that we are all already successful. After all, we all attend this esteemed university.

But now that I have been admitted, in the eyes of my Cornellian community, I have no longer really accomplished anything — because everybody here has accomplished the same thing. What was once a major triumph now seems almost trivial. Which means I must now start over to prove my academic worth. And what a feat that is.

Through the intensity of my courses, through the piles of pages needing to be read, through the hours spent in the library, I’ve come to a troubling realization. My high school education has led me into a false sense of security. The plethora of As that I worked so hard for have lost their value here. I came onto this campus a fraction as prepared as so many of my peers. The fact that I received an A in AP Econ in high school, but a D in Econ 1110, speaks to this. In fact, it almost shouts. And since I studied harder in Econ 1110 than I did in AP Econ, I begin to question my intelligence. I begin to doubt my academic worth. No, I begin to doubt my personal worth.

It is then that the campus begins to convince me that, though important, it is not just about academics. I breathe a sigh of relief before it tells me that I must strive for something even more impressive. The sigh of relief turns into one of frustration. I must meet a new metric of accomplishment in hopes of differentiating my resume from my peers — because all our resumes say Cornell University.

The ivy walls urge me to “get involved, join a club.” Desperate to distract my mind from academics, but hoping to establish proof of “professionalism” on my apparently bare resume, I listen to the mischievous ivy. I open up the Google Sheets, answer the first question regarding my interests in the org. I feel confident. But then I get to the end — I am asked to upload my resume. A resume that Career Services adamantly maintains requires my current GPA. Although I am told that a holistic approach would be taken, and GPA is only partially taken into account, I am still concerned. The road leads back to that question of academic worth.

But I can’t help but ask myself, is it really fair?

We have all reached what feels like the epitome of success, yet that does not suggest the playing field is level. We all had different experiences and— in some ways, more importantly — different educations leading up to our arrival here. But that doesn’t simply mean some of us are more or less qualified. Instead, it means we all have different definitions of success. From conversations with my friends and peers, it is clear that our unique backgrounds give us not just unique tools but unique priorities. In that sense, we all start at different positions on the Cornellian game board, but with different goals in mind. Though it is often described as such, life is not truly a race when both the starting blocks and finish lines look strikingly different.

To some of my peers, the knowledge of my low GPA means they will now look at me differently. Perhaps with displeasure. Maybe even pity. What they would be failing to understand is that I am not ashamed of my GPA. Nor am I ashamed of the D I received in economics. I am actually proud of it. I see it as a marker for my growth. A person’s worth and future success should not be measured by grades and numbers.

In fact, I do not agree that my GPA is bad. But even if it is, it does not matter because I am not my GPA. I am going to graduate from this institution right beside my fellow class of 2022. And regardless of what the number says on my transcript, nothing is going to stand in the way of all the things I want to achieve in this world. Just as it shouldn’t for anyone else.

Sidney Malia Waite is a sophomore in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. She can be reached at smw327@cornell.edu. Waite, What? runs every other Friday this semester.