On Not Being a Straight “A” Student


I’m sure we can all remember the first time we received a less than pleasing mark on a school assignment. If you’re one of those who never fails, then you’re displeasing grade was probably a B, or a B- at worst. Others of us were not so fortunate. It’s almost cruel – how we spend our first year in academics rigorously learning the order of letters and numbers only to have them hauntingly dictate our success later in life. It makes the ABC tune a little sadistic once you pass the third letter…. No one should be quite that happy singing about D’s and F’s.

While I was growing up I was a bright student. There wasn’t anything too difficult about learning how to read, or memorizing certain dates and what happened in battles and who invented what. I did of course cry over rudimentary math sheets – I don’t know who hasn’t shed a few tears over misplaced decimal points and fractions, but it was nothing detrimental to the continuation of my studies. Even when I walked into high school, I was confident in my intelligence. High grades should come easy shouldn’t they?

They did not.

For the first two years I sailed along quite happily. Nothing dreadful happens in Geometry, or Chemistry, and sophomore English was a delight with the amount of creative writing assignments we were allowed. Even my Junior year was fairly smooth, with a few challenges from AP courses but nothing drastic. No, I was abiding by my own expectations of well rehearsed studying, memorization and regurgitation on each test. The results were good –  and then there was Calculus.

I still remember receiving my first test grade during Senior year. I don’t remember taking the test though, perhaps that was a traumatic experience and my memory has kindly destroyed it. When my teacher handed me those stapled papers though, with lots of evil red writing and a large, obvious “D” printed on the front, I was crushed. I had never been a “D” student. Those students didn’t take 3 AP courses in one year. Those students were not on a varsity sports team. Those students were not in school plays each semester. Those students did not receive high marks on dreadful standardized tests. But here I was holding a paper with a letter that made all that evidence void. I WAS a “D” student, maybe not entirely, but I did now have to recognize solidarity with those who were not identified as “stellar students.” And it was difficult.

Tears of frustration fell during multiple studying sessions. I poured over derivatives and integrals. I made myself mad while scribbling out equations, double checking them again and again. I humbled myself by asking friends for help – friends who I had once believed were “less scholarly” than myself. What did that even mean? – I wondered. How could I have believed that good grades in geometry and well written essays could make me invincible to the failing grades dealt out by our teachers’ year after year?

The long hours of work paid off with a simple, honest “B” in Calculus. I thought I would never be so proud of a grade less than an A as I was of that one. Until I started Nursing School that is. I thought the days of difficult, drudging studying was behind me when I turned in my scientific calculator to another poor student. But they were not. The days of being humbled by less than satisfying grades were far from over – and in fact with my university’s five-point grading scale they had only become more brutal. High school had only skimmed the surface at my ego – nursing school excavated its entirety.

I’m not finished with Nursing School yet. In fact, I’m diligently studying for a test that won’t take place for another 3 weeks – because I need to raise my grade in the course. And that is what university has been for me, a consistent need to raise my grade, sometimes for my own satisfaction and sometimes a necessity for continuing.

This grueling labour for school is something I had never associated with myself before now. Even when I was struggling through Calculus as a teenager, strangers would make the assumption that I was smart, intelligent, bright, a “straight A student” for sure. I did not correct them. Perhaps they thought this because I like to read, or can carry on a conversation with people much older than me without much error. Or perhaps they just assumed because I’m well dressed and have intelligent parents that school would come easy to me. It doesn’t – and that is something I have only just learned to admit.

I’m not a student who can look over a power point twice and understand the content. I’m not a student who can read the chapter once and ace the test. No, I’m the late night studier, I’m the note card writer, the scrambler, the one trying to understand the concept and also just trying to pass the test. I’m the one swamped with notes and books in the library, constantly on the verge of tears due to stress, sleep deprivation, or hopelessness. I don’t check my grades until I’m alone, able to handle the disappointment or the joy in peace. And I’m the kind who has had to learn time and time again my worth is not in my grades, nor in my performance at school, but in my faith, my Father.

Although there are days when I am certain my university will send me a later saying “I’m sorry – you are not the academic scholar we expected, please find a rudimentary community college to which you are more suited” – there are an equal number of days when I am proud to work hard for my grades. Though they aren’t the best in my class, there won’t be any “cum laude” certifications for me at graduation, I will have a diploma. I will have learned the material required to pass nursing school. Far beyond that, I will have learned that I am not a straight A student, but I am a hard worker.

I hope this is an encouragement to those who find themselves defeated by the rigorous expectations of today’s culture. We are required to make certain grades, certain scores, be involved in certain programmes, have an on campus presence, and maintain a healthy lifestyle. We know it’s impossible. Professors know it’s impossible. But we push ourselves to the brink of exhaustion just the same. So I plead with you to stop. As I had to learn – we cannot achieve perfection. We cannot ace every test, paper or not, placed in front of us. Some days I think we should all stop and take notice of Moulin Rouge’s famous line “The greatest thing you’ll ever learn, is to love and be loved in return.” If only that was the philosophy of academia – how to achieve the ability to love at your fullest capacity and accept that love in return. But that is for another post, another time.

For now, my fellow less than perfect students, let’s embrace the opportunity we have been given – to study, to work persistently towards our goals, and to practice the humility of saying “No, I’m not a straight A student, and that’s okay.”

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