A Love-Hate Affair with Grades

Whether we’d like to admit it or not, most of our lives as students revolved around grades.

It’s a system that shaped much of what we are now. We complied to it, were measured by it, progressed through it, graduated from it, and earned a title by it.

Some of us were even honored by it, though some unfortunately, through the horrors of its pressure gave in and got crushed in the process.

Despite the imperfections of its standards by which we were strained, it has been a  solid refining crucible wherein not only our metal abilities but also our innate characters were tested.

Now that I’ve survived all those academic roller coaster rides, and finally landed a corporate job, I would dare say that somehow, I am  in that position to reflect and conclude the real deal about this whole love-hate affair with grades.

Let me share to you my reflections per phase of my student life:

Kinder to Grade school

As a child, I was thankful to have parents who have inculcated discipline in me at such a young age. These formative years have been crucial in building my foundational knowledge and study habits. Most of what were retained in my memory now were lessons I learned from grade school. For this age, balancing learning and fun with the guide of both parents and teachers is very important in determining how the child will fare in their next phase of education. Investing in knowledge and training at this early point is never a wrong decision.

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High School

Since I was trained well from my elementary years, by God’s grace I was able to make it to a science high school. When I made it there though, I realized that no one really cared that I graduated valedictorian from previous school since most of us did. We were all back to zero then. That was my first stint in a race to competitiveness and academic success.My first two years in high school were my most “GC” or grade-conscious days. All my efforts paid off well to the point that I even regarded my grades as my “treasures.”

It was in third year high school when I came to a turning point – from venerating my grades to getting disillusioned about the whole idea of grading system and hating whoever invented it. It was a year when I discovered that I had difficulty sustaining interest in areas that didn’t really capture my attention.The words of Goethe became my mantra: “In everything, we learn only from those we love.”

Thus, during the latter part of HS, I got so demotivated, I almost slacked off. Of course, I suffered the consequences. My report card lost its luster. But by God’s grace, I still made it to UP with my preferred course. Yes, my weighted average, more importantly, the concepts retained on my mind are what took me to a premiere college.

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College

Entering UP was like stepping into a vast ocean of growth opportunities. I vowed that I wouldn’t let myself be trapped inside the classroom when there’s a lot more I can learn and experience outside. My whole college life became a tremendous balancing act. Juggling activities was fun in itself, but what made it burdensome was the weight of trade-offs that came with it. A quick reality check reminded me that I had only 24 hours a day. When I spend one hour doing one thing, it will correspondingly cost me an hour of another – it can be sleep, family time, personal devotion, etc. Compared with the first 2 phases of our academic life, college would be the closest reflection of “real” life. Our academics could represent our professional work, while extra-curriculars would represent what we achieve outside of it.

This phase is also when the tension about grades become so intense. One side shouts – grades are irrelevant and don’t define you as a student. The other side snaps, your grade is important because it will determine your job in the future.

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I agree. Both sides have their point.

Just like how grades enabled you to get to a prestigious high school or college, grades could also be crucial in earning you a coveted first job. Yes, grades can take you to as far as your first job. But after that, it’s all performance based afterwards – how you do well in actual practice will determine your promotion.

As you’d note, it’s a never-ending race to succeed and to be promoted. It’s our un-satiated craving for self-worth and satisfaction that tells us not to settle. This is why we mustn’t treat our 1.00s as crowning glories nor our 5.00s as the final verdict for our success.  I guess the missing piece for this puzzling dilemma of whether grades are really important is where passion comes into play.

Passion – the fuel that drives

Since college is a good reflection of how your future life will look like, it will also be the best time to discover where your passion truly lies. As we are all aware, passion is the fuel which drives you to your destination.People who find themselves studying the course that happens to be their passion too tend to be the achievers inside the classroom. In an ideal world, each student should be found studying the curriculum they really wanted or are driven to learn. In reality,however, we know that some students feel that they are misfits in their courses. Some would be found studying those courses which are pre-judged by their parents or by the society to give higher monetary returns than others.

We have to keep in mind though that there are many things by which we can measure our fulfillment as students or as humans in general – the same way that career success or money in the bank doesn’t define one’s overall worth. If you’re a parent, the way you raise your children would be of utmost importance to you. Likewise, if you’re a missionary, how much you gather as support would be of nil importance as you obey God’s call.

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In essence, the grading system should not be a basis of self-worth for students. It is rather, a good-enough simulation of the appraisal system found in the corporate arena –a product of the highly industrialized world that we live in. For most of us, this is the path we would most likely track. In pursuing it, we must know that application and attitude towards work matter more than theoretical knowledge and transcripts. And yes, it’s very noble to aim for success in this professional area.

But besides this field, there are lots of other options. The call for us to tread the forlorn path to success like the poet Robert Frost beckons, still rings loud up to this day.

But not everyone is designed to take it, and not everyone is willing to take the kind of risk and uncertainty it requires.

What you need to consider now is how you see your student life as a preparation for the real world.

If you believe that your grades will take you to your dream job, by all means, excel. Be the best student there is in your field, if that is where your passion drives you. But be careful not to be too consumed with success that you leave out all the other equally-important aspects of your life. Balance, as we say.

If you think that grades are irrelevant and will not matter much in the future. Yes, there is truth in that. But make sure that as you defend your point, you couple it with the kind of action and preparations that you think will matter to your future more than grades.Prove your point by living it out. Find your true passion.  Excel in your chosen field. Be a nonconformist as you dare to achieve.

To both of you, aim to be great contributors to the society.

Because that’s the only way we can say that neither of you lost nor failed.

*Quezon Hall photo grabbed from Manila Bulletin site.

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