Thursday, December 23, 2004

Straight Friggin' A's

Dearest Readership, I pulled it off: A’s in all my classes. In order of most effort:

1st place (tie): Scottish Literature and Medieval Literature. Both 4000 (read: senior level) classes. Both a lot of work. Both ass-kicking, mind-wrenching good times and I learned a ton.

2nd place: Intro to Literature. A 2000 level class. The final was harder than I’d thought it would be, and I only got an A- on the last paper. The issue really was in doubt for a few days there.

3rd place: Human & Lifespan Development. I was a bit harsh in my early assessment of this class. I mean, she really did have us coloring our “life maps” for Christ’s sake, and toward the end of the semester we did collages of how we wanted our lives to turn out. The silliness was balanced out by some vaguely interesting and stimulating discussions about changes over the human lifespan.

4th place: Teaching with Microcomputers. This class was just as easy as it sounds. I had the A wrapped up by, oh, Halloween or so.

Now, there’s been an ongoing discussion in my family – generally a one-way discussion coming from both sets of parents – about how it’s okay to not feel pressure to get A’s, especially if that pressure contributes to not having fun while at college. The thing is, the two aren’t really related. I wasn’t having fun because I was choosing to not have fun, and the choice had very little to do with my grades. It took a swift kick in the emotional ass from my boss (a former counselor who saw right through my bullshit) to help understand some of the self-defeating behavior that was taking place socially. I think I made significant emotional progress sometime around Thanksgiving, but that’s a different post. This one’s about the grades.

For a good long time in my life, right up until I started working at, I was supremely proud of my parents (both health care professionals and very good at what they do), my sister (she did graduate work at Yale), and my best friend (a Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering and now with the State Department). All very bright and successful people, regardless of whether or not their education has anything to do with what they’re doing now. And obviously I’m still very proud of each of them.

But the fact remains that I was intimidated by their success. It was certainly NOT because of anything they said, but simply because, well, it happens. When your dad’s some kind of genius trauma doctor, there is and WILL ALWAYS BE an unspoken expectation for you. He might not see it or even believe it, and I may be overly sensitive simply because I am sometimes overly sensitive, but I do know how it happens and I can even show you how it works:

Scene: A Christmas cocktail party. Bill and Susan are doctors and acquaintances but not in frequent contact.

Bill: Great to see you, Susan! How’s the family?
Susan: Just fine! Laura is a 2L at Colorado, and William is doing post-doc work at Johns Hopkins. What about Charlie? What’s he up to?
Bill: Well, he’s still trying to figure out what’s next. Right now he’s working retail and expects to return to school.
Susan: Oh, I’m sure he will. He’s such a bright guy.
Bill: We certainly hope so. We’ll never tell him that, of course. You know how kids are…

Both laugh, sip drinks, and move on.

Notice how Bill is quick to point out that Charlie still has school in mind. The implication is that the path to success/happiness winds through college; that a life in retail necessarily precludes success/happiness. Susan, meanwhile, is rightfully proud of her kids, which is fine, but her line about being sure Charlie will return to school because he’s bright holds implications as well: that being bright means you should go to college. Finally, they each recognize how uncomfortable Bill is about Charlie’s stage in life, and they use parents-only humor to ensure a mutually painless closure to the encounter.

Now, my own evaluation makes the assumption that happiness is what we should strive for. Frankly, I grow more convinced of that almost daily. And you know what? The first person to say the words, “The most important thing in life is for you to be happy” to my face was my father. It didn’t happen until my mid-twenties, but it happened.

But back to the grades. I pushed myself hard because a part of me will always regret not going to Law School; if I didn’t attend Law School then I should at the very least get amazing grades. And in fact, going to Law School was actually wrapped up in the whole make-others-proud/jealous-thing (a part of me always wanted to drop that bomb in conversation – “What do you do?” “Oh, I’m a 3L…”). Sure, I could have helped people as an attorney, but not in the same way a teacher does. Naïve? Not really. It would be naïve if I actually expected the kids to care or realize how I was helping them, or if I expected any kind of recognition at all. But five bucks says each of you can remember something about a teacher you once had.

So from the practical standpoint of What Would Make Me Happy, the answer is, teaching. When I think about what legacy I want to leave, it will be easier and more effective for me to be a teacher than an attorney. As an ex-girlfriend once said, “You’d do fine in Law School. It’s the being an attorney part you’d suck at.”

So I guess I got straight A’s simply because I could. They did not, in fact, come at the expense of fun, and as cool as it would be to graduate with a 4.0 (from Wyoming, anyway - my cumulative GPA will eternally schlep some C’s from my Casper College days), I won’t be heartbroken if it doesn’t happen.

Whew. I’ve needed to get that one off my chest. It’s frigid in Champaign today; the relatives start arriving this evening and I’m really looking forward to seeing everyone.

Stay tuned.


Blogger Chad said...

Dude, as far as I'm concerned, you're right the hell where you need to be. You've got shit figured out, and your continously hard work is an inspiration. I think you'll make an excellent teacher.

11:28 AM  
Blogger Leta said...

Congratulations! A full semester in a lot of ways and rewarding in a lot of ways. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

12:13 PM  

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