11: My Fortunately Unfortunate Grades

11: My Fortunately Unfortunate Grades

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Teens Talk Getting In...To College

My Fortunately Unfortunate Grades

I can accept failure, but I can’t accept not trying.

~Michael Jordan

A−. A. B. B+. B. C+. That’s usually what my high school report cards looked like.

Call it laziness. Call it a serious case of denial. Up until first semester junior year, I refused to believe that my grades were in any way related to an acceptance letter. College seemed so far away—I mean, really, me, going to college? Freshman year... sophomore year... I hadn’t even had my first kiss yet! I had priorities. And trust me, college definitely came after getting asked to Homecoming.

Much of my cavalier attitude about grades stemmed from the fact that nearly everything that surrounded me up until high school seemed to glow with a golden aura. At my all-girl middle school... well, not to toot my own horn, but I won the science fair, wrote essays I was sure deserved Pulitzer Prizes, and tossed A tests in the recycling bin knowing I was one period away from another A. I played on every team, had a role in every play, and spent my lunch period meeting with the other student council officers.

Naturally, I chose to attend a high school where being “the best” is a prerequisite for enrollment. That, and you must be the proud owner of several thousand collared shirts.

Mr. Off’s World History class was the first indication that hominids and Mesopotamians would have to compete for my attention with a far more interesting species: boys. During roll call on my very first day of high school, my pen dropped to the ground when I heard his name. He was a boy I had been hearing stories about for the last two years. A fourteen-year-old Chicago legend, he already had a reputation for taking girls on dates to the Lincoln Park Zoo and throwing parties with beer in his condo. Oh, how I loved him. Every time he smiled, I thought about how cute he looked with braces. Once, I bought a pack of Cert mints with the sole intention of being able to offer him one.

He was the reason I settled for a B+ in a class in which I could easily have managed an A.

Math, on the other hand, has never been a subject near and dear to my heart. I worked with tutors, spent my lunch period with my teacher—and I could never manage more than a B-. I wanted a good grade because I was the type of student who got good grades, but as it became clear that new material built upon material I had never mastered in the first place (I still don’t understand factoring), I grew apathetic and convinced myself that real life doesn’t involve as many “x’s” and “y’s” as Mr. Owen would have me believe.

As teacher after teacher patiently doodled parabolas and the quadratic formula on overhead projector slides, I penned elaborate, dizzying notes to my best friend, rigorously detailing the exact stitching on a pale yellow Marc Jacobs bag and in the same breath denouncing algebra as an evil precursor to my future, math-less life in New York City as a writer. “Honestly, the only thing parabolas are good for is making a purse handle. By the way, have you thought of your Halloween costume yet?”

Then there was Ms. Porter, who most students disliked. I couldn’t blame them. She was young, but serious looking. Her personality was stern. She was uncharacteristically harsh for a woman in her twenties, and even when she was supposed to be excited or think something was funny, her forced smiles and laughs were almost more painful to endure than if she had remained straight-faced. I loved her. She was a puzzle I wanted to solve.

One day, I brought her a book I thought she would like in hopes of breaking her tough exterior. She thanked me and we began trading books, but it was all business. I was never able to decipher her code. What did she want out of life? Why did she always seem so unhappy? I finally settled on the idea that, like many writers and lovers of books, Ms. Porter wasn’t sad, but enjoyed characters and the intensified, beautiful book version of what love and life and happiness could be, more than she enjoyed real life. Ms. Porter was a modern-day Emily Dickinson, choosing to observe rather than participate.

Her reluctance to cheapen English by making it a throwaway class made her a great teacher, and I worked very hard. Accordingly, I always got an A. Other kids were sent to summer school—she was probably the only English teacher to do this.

My tendency to pour myself into whatever class piqued my interest—English, AP Comparative Government, French—and ignore everything else—was reflected by my grades. It wasn’t until I saw my transcript at the end of junior year that I realized I wasn’t such a red-hot prodigy after all. Bs were everywhere, and a B on a high school grade report is the kiss of death in college admissions. Bye-bye Harvard!

Sophomore year, the year I had gotten a C- in religion class, was by far the worst. I had a GPA of 2.7 one semester, a secret I considered asking the FBI to guard. At my high school, you got a C- and considered dropping out of society.

No one would have believed my grades. I was very involved in extremely... okay, dorky, extracurricular activities. I held positions on both our award-winning Model United Nations team and on the Forensics (speech) team. I was an editor of both the yearbook and newspaper. I entered national writing contests. I wrote letters to the editor of People magazine in my spare time.

But I was no star student.

The grade report woke me from my coma, and I managed a 3.8 GPA for the first semester of my senior year—the final semester that counts. I ended up applying to colleges with my cumulative GPA hovering around a 3.2. A respectable, above average number, but nowhere near what I needed to gain admission to the University of Pennsylvania, where I applied early decision.

If you had asked me senior year, amidst sobs and confusion about where I would attend college, I would have said I seriously regretted my high school grades. I regretted them because I didn’t get to choose between Stanford and Duke, Princeton and Harvard. I wanted choices, not heartbreak.

However, I now realize that if I had been able to choose between Princeton and Boston University, my current school, I would have made the wrong choice. I would have chosen Princeton for the same reason someone would choose a five-star restaurant over a three-star restaurant: name, prestige, and bragging rights. Never mind that all my friends are at the three-star restaurant, or that its menu has all my favorite foods. In a pinch, most people choose five-stars without considering the finer points.

Getting good grades is something everyone should strive for, but trying your hardest is more important. I didn’t try my hardest in every class in high school, and that is what I regret.

But do I think about that B- in geometry when I’m cheering on Boston Marathon runners or enjoying lobster night in the dining hall? Not a chance.

~Molly Fedick

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