There’s a wall in my house that has three pictures: one each of myself, my older sister, and my older brother. It began with pictures of us in first grade and was changed to our eighth grade graduation photo as we grew. We all attended the same junior high and, along with their cap and gown, my brother and sister wore the gold medallion. The gold medallion; it just sounds important, doesn’t it? This medal was given exclusively to those students who had received a 4.0 in junior high. Forty-eight A’s: six classes, four quarters, two years. I was clever in elementary school and I wasn’t about to be the child to break the winning streak, so I began junior high planning to add the final gold medallion picture to the wall.
Physical education, Mr. Feldman’s sixth period class. I got a C on a “football test” because I couldn’t throw in a straight line, even though I practiced at home. Feel free to take a moment to note how wonderfully stereotypical it is for the nerd to be bad at sports, but eighth grade PE was the first class in which I almost didn’t get an A. I ran my weekly mile as fast as I could and I did my best in volleyball and, in June of 2004, I emerged victorious.
Eighth grade was transitional, moody time for me. Among other much more dramatic thoughts, I definitely remember telling myself that, once I was in high school, I was going to get B’s. I was sick of being an A student. A’s were hard and I was rubbish at PE. I expected to attend the local state college upon graduation and they would take me even if I got B’s, so I would relax and give them just that.
But I didn’t get B’s in high school. I continued to get A’s… in fact, I was one of the top dozen or so students in my grade. A few of those A’s were from cheerleading, yes; sure, I may have failed to develop the oral communication skills necessary to excel in an interview for admission to USC, ultimately resulting in a humbling letter of rejection, but I still got all A’s. I had my GPA, my “Distinguished Scholar” graduation stole, and some acceptance letters from universities of a much higher caliber than my local college. I shook the superintendent’s hand, received my diploma, and told myself that, in college, I would get B’s, maybe even a C or two, and it would be okay.
B’s are respectable marks at four-year institutions, especially semi-fancy private ones like the one I attend. A GPA that is at or above 3.0 is enough for scholarships, pride, and ultimately, a decent job. A university B is much more impressive than a high school B. It says you work hard, you generally do well in class, and that you were probably an A student in high school. At university, I really could get B’s and it really could be okay.
The final grade report from my first semester astonished me. I planned for B’s, worked hard, and did much better than that. I had a 4.0 GPA in college. I told myself that I must be clinging to some residual high school work ethic and that I only did that well because general education classes are supposed to be easy. How else could I have done it? My social calendar would tell you that I wasn’t getting those A’s between the hours of 10:00 pm and 3:00 am five nights a week. It must’ve been a fluke.
At the end of my freshman year, I had managed a second fluke that looked identical to the first. I was inexplicably able to hold onto my old grades for another semester and it was then that I reminded myself to continue to do whatever I was doing, but that B’s were still okay. I could work much less hard if I wanted to and it would be okay.
I’m not completely sure why I constantly told myself that it would be okay to give up, but I did. In one form or another, that was always the mantra: finish strong and you can finally stop trying so hard for the rest of your life.
I think it’s because doing this well in school is really, really hard. It has cost me sleep, friends, and sanity, but I just keep doing it. Back in junior high, high school, and in the beginning of college, I didn’t know why I kept working so hard to be exceptional when I could so easily be average, but I know why now.
I am no longer spending my life as a student in anticipation of some long-awaited exhale; instead, I look forward to opening doors and new opportunities to be exceptional in ways that reach far beyond college transcripts. I still might get a B next year, and it honestly will still be okay, but it won’t be because I let myself give up because I know that will never happen. I’m addicted to the satisfaction that comes from a hard-earned victory, so I suppose I’m fortunate that I’ll never allow myself to count mediocrity as a success.
I don’t know if I’ll ever save the world, I don’t know if I’m quite exceptional enough for an Ivy League law school, but here and now, I can be exceptional. I can do it and it’s okay that being average is not okay for me. I’m not just a business student—I’m a business student with a love for books and an appreciation for science. I’m not just an academic—I work in my community to help create a healthier tomorrow. Most of all, I’m not just a resume, a list of qualifications and relevant work experience—I’m a person with big plans and I’m gaining momentum.
Below my photograph in my senior yearbook, there’s a quote by Dr. Seuss. It reads, “Kid, you’ll move mountains.” Nearly four years ago, I was still telling myself to let go of aspirations to be the best, but deep down, I seem to have known my potential. I find strength in the knowledge that my enthusiasm for learning and my drive for success haven’t been put on me by overbearing parents or dreams of fame and fortune. I strive only to be exceptional and I make it happen. Those mountains are going to move.