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November 28, 2015 / 16 Kislev, 5776
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Blessings Of A “B”

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It took me years to be able to say this (and a lot of painful bouts of insomnia, ulcers and ice cream cravings) but grades aren’t everything. For those of you in high school, who are being beaten over the head with “you won’t be able to get into college if you don’t have a good average,” I feel for you. It is a lot of pressure and while I can’t deny a grade point average is very important, it is not the end all and be all of your existence, no matter what anyone tells you.

I remember being in college and not sleeping at night because I was terrified a teacher would give me an A-, and that would spoil my pristine 4.0.  I had dreams of being valedictorian and showing my overachieving brothers that I too could be an academic star.  I put hours into studying for a final and was sure I had aced it.  I had big plans for the party four years hence where I would win the admiration and jealousy of my entire family due to my sheer academic genius.

To my utter sorrow, the teacher gave me an A-, crashing my dreams forever. He even had the nerve to congratulate me on my excellent grade. “Besides for one mistake, it was a masterpiece.”  I had to bite my tongue to stop myself from lambasting him for ruining my average forever! Of course, realizing I had made a mistake didn’t make me feel much better.  In fact, I felt like a complete failure.  How would I ever get the esteem of my family if I didn’t have a perfect average?

After a long crying session with my teddy bear, I really had no idea what to think. If my goal of a perfect score was over, I needed a new goal.  I realized a few semesters’ later that the quest for a perfect grade point average had been a terrible goal. Wasn’t I willing to challenge myself and risk a few points off my grade point average? Would I have unintentionally chosen easier courses because I valued a grade over an education?  Taking the emphasis off grades had actually improved my education.

So I decided to take classes that interested me, and would help me find a job. I took skills courses, as well as classes that seemed interesting and fit into my schedule.  I managed to graduate with honors, and although I wasn’t first in my class, I wasn’t far from it.  In other words, the world did not come to an end because that elusive 4.0 had eluded me as well.

Then came graduate school, which meant the work would only get harder. With a lot of trepidation, I had decided to take graduate level statistics. Math has never been my favorite topic and part of my glee in majoring in Urban Studies had been not taking any more math courses.   State regents’ level math had been painful enough.

Now I was going to be taking hard math, the kind of math I had hoped never to see.  I could have tried to argue my way out of it and take some remedial math, but I decided that it was worth a try. After all, statistics was something society ran on and a good understanding would be valuable to me. That is, if I survived the midterm’s endless figure chart.

It was a mixed bag. I was blessed with a fantastic teacher who really worked hard to make the class interesting. Of course the material made up for that boon and proceeded to confuse me, every which way.  I struggled through every class, spent hours trying to understand the material and the math resource room had become my new second home.

When I got my grades back, I realized I had a B. Not even a B+ but an alarmingly average B.   Four years ago, an A- had sent me into spasms of sobs and long angst-ridden poetry about the futility of life. Now I had a full grade level lower.

You know what was weird? I was the happiest person I had ever been – this was cause for celebration.  I had passed one of the hardest classes, in a subject I had hated. The proud nod of approval my teacher gave me when he handed me back my paper spoke volumes.  It was a job well done; I had challenged myself and had learned a valuable subject that would serve me well in my future career. I had stretched my talents and had proved myself wrong; I could be decent in mathematics.   It didn’t matter that this lowered my grade point average – I had achieved something great.

In hindsight, my GPA suffered.  But no “A” could have given me the pleasure of knowing how much I could achieve if I faced my fears.  I think it was worth it.  Therefore, I can only advise others to take the path of learning, because the skills will serve you well.  Grades fade away into the obscurity of memory, but learning is forever.

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