Boston College students have diverse personalities and wide-ranging interests, but most share at least one common characteristic: a desire for success. The average SAT score for the current freshman class was a 2032 and 82% of the freshmen were in the top 10% of their high school classes.
Though I cannot speak for all Boston College students, I know that many of us describe ourselves as competitive—as those students who shamelessly (or shamefully) grade grub for that A-. Even though we tell ourselves that our grades don’t matter, that our experience and our passion is what will propel us forward in life, we still agonize over hundredths of a point in our GPA.
Like horses, we wear blinders to prevent distraction from the world around us. We keep ourselves focused on the tasks in front of us, never wavering from the carefully constructed paths we built for ourselves as teenagers.
Our neurotic tendencies are not entirely our fault, however. Society has embedded us with the notion that self-worth and prosperity correlates with the grades we receive in school. A’s are a supposed indication of our future success, so we lock ourselves inside the study rooms of O’Neill and chain ourselves to the desks in Bapst in pursuit of the ideal life. We tell ourselves that “nights stayed in” will be worth it when we finally land that job at a Fortune 500 company or when we finally get an acceptance letter to medical school.
Failure is a dirty word. We would rather drop a class, declare it pass/fail, or withdraw rather than failing. Students spend hours sifting the professor reviews on PEPS and asking classmates about the difficulty of classes in order to create the perfect schedule. Students who love the physicality and freedom of oil painting but fear the subjectivity of the grade avoid the fine arts. Often, students want to take a literature class but fear the course load avoid the English department.
Yet all of the memorizing, pouring over inane statistics, endless flashcards, single-minded focus and fear of failure are holding us back. Upon graduation, when someone asks you for your favorite college memory, you are probably not going to recite lines of Shakespeare or declare your love of the stages of photosynthesis and cellular respiration.
Instead, you are going to talk about that time that you and your friends went to an Imagine Dragons concert and pushed through to the front of the crowd just to touch the lead singer’s shoe. You are going to talk about the nights you stayed up until 4 a.m. talking with your roommates about how obsessed you are with Lucas Scott’s smile from One Tree Hill. You are going to talk about that time you went into Boston on a school night at 11 p.m. after the Red Sox won the World Series. Nights holed up in the library will all blend together and, ultimately, they will be meaningless. Life experience, not high grades, is what makes college such a unique and exciting time.
Yes, grades do hold some weight and relevance. Your first employer might ask you about your GPA to get a sense of your work ethic. Grades are necessary as an evaluation of coursework, but the thing that students tend to forget is that they are not an evaluation of their worth.
In the real world, it is the risk-takers, the travelers and the comfort-zone-breakers that make meaningful contributions. When you ask these people about their interests, they are not simply listing off a series of clubs and awards. They talk about the band The Neighbourhood and how they got lost in their lyrics or how they love the way an author can create a rhythm of words that sounds like raindrops on a rooftop.
For all of the freshmen worrying about their first semester grades or the juniors worrying about their class rank, it might be time to just take a step back and get some perspective. A few C’s and D’s do not mean the death of one’s dreams. In the end, the regrets that we will have will not be over our C- in Finite, they will be over the chances we didn’t take and the lives we didn’t live.