“My grades don’t define me! An exam doesn’t decide my fate!” -Randall Barnes
The end of the semester in college is one of the saddest sights you’ll ever see. Fear of failure lingers in the atmosphere. The yard, usually packed with students starting at dinner hours, is devoid of life. You see endless posts on social media reaffirming hope and asking for prayer, as the infamous finals week approaches. You’ll even catch Honors students on the brink of tears, sequentially counting down to the day that the semester officially ends.
The five month journey isn’t over at move out day. The semester officially comes to a close when final grades are posted. The wait for finals grades can range from a couple of days to two weeks. You’ll be ready to open Christmas presents or declare your New Year’s Resolutions when your instructor finally decides to post the grade you thought was going to be an A but really ended up being significantly lower.
I speak from experience. I am one of the students that stresses out to no end about my final grades when the end of the semester approaches. While caring about the progress of our collegiate education is great, anxiety shouldn’t be created from it. We are not our grades. I simply don’t subscribe to the notion that an F makes me inept and an A makes me a genius. Grade me on the type of man I am. Judge me on my actions. This is not a defense of all F’s, as all failures are not equal. You can fail by not trying. You can fail by half trying. You can fail by not even showing up to class at all.
However, my gripes go deeper. Why do we always leave out the students that tried their hardest to master a specific subject but still end up behind the curve? Why is it that we have to rely on our “friendships” with certain professors for confirmation that we’ll pass our classes, making the saying “it’s not what you know but who you know” the law of the land? You see this occur most frequently in math courses, where we’re seemingly punished for not being analytically minded. Don’t get it twisted though. The narrative of the student who tried but didn’t succeed can be seen in all subject areas.
I vividly remember my 10th grade year of high school. It was a transformative point in my life, as I quit trying to conform to what I saw around me and became unabashedly proud of who I was. It was also a point of turmoil, as I ran into a math class that I was close to failing. The teacher was no help, as she had it in her head that I was arrogant and wanted a grade handed to me on a silver platter. She even had the nerve to tell me that I “pissed her off”. The anger I felt turned into fear as I realized that she had the final say on what my final grade would be. The thought of my graduation date being held up scared me. I felt as if my whole professional life was in her hands.
I was wrong. It took me coming across British spoken word artist Suli Break’s at-the-time viral video I Will Not Let An Exam Result Decide My Fate. As I listened, I found myself nodding in agreement with his words. Quotables from his spoken word piece echoed in my head through the rest of that semester.
Exams are society’s methods of telling you what you’re worth but you can’t let society tell you what you are.
Test us with tests, but the finals are never final because they never prepare us for the biggest test which is survival!
Students! How many equations, subjects and dates did you memorize just before an exam never to use again? How many “A” grades did you get, which were never asked for when applying for a job?
The piece put me at ease helping me in reaffirming that, no matter what occurred, I will be successful no matter what. In this realization, I took the supposed “power” out of my math teacher’s hands. I ended up passing the class. Just barely, but I passed. The same outcome didn’t occur for me three years later but my confidence hasn’t shaken. I refuse to let my grades define me. As Suli Breaks perfectly expressed, I will not let an exam result decide my fate.
Maybe realizing that our world won’t come crashing down if we fail will help us better control ourselves come the end of the semester. Maybe understanding that the power to create personal success lies inside of us and not our instructors will empower us. Many times, we focus so much on our grades that we forget that the numbers that really matter in life come attached with a dollar sign. We see that the “it’s not what you know but who you know” train works well with our professors yet forget to make professional networking connections when opportunities are presented. We work so hard for our degrees, neglecting the fact that a degree is only the key to unlock the door to untold wealth. If you don’t use the key, it’s virtually useless.
I will never diminish the value of any level of education. I will, however, fight to wrestle away the value that we place in the opinion and actions of instructors. I will always affirm that the power for change is, and has always been, within all of us. We just need to realize it.