I did my first trimester of college too well. Having taken a gap year to hike, ski, and bike around the world, I started college with a thirst for all things academics. This drive, coupled with courses that played to my strengths, led to a straight A report card. That winter break, I was proud of the accomplishment, and my parents gave me a kind pat on the back – nothing over the top. A’s felt good.
When I returned to campus in January, I experienced the subtle downside to A’s. Reviewing the course catalog for second trimester, I found myself drawn to more courses that required strong reading and writing skills, my strengths. I was intrigued by computer science and some of the mechanical engineering courses my roommates were taking. I had no experience with these subjects, though, and I was naturally nervous. My previous success only added to my concern – could I “keep up the 4.0 with a computer science course?” I chose Zen Buddhism instead of CS. With another schedule of largely humanities courses, I saw the same end of term results. With each successful marking period my success and self-imposed pressure – I don’t recall my parents ever asking about my grades – made me more and more risk averse.
I don’t regret the courses that I took. That Zen Buddhism course freshman year led me to eventually study and live in a Buddhist monastery in India, a memorable experience. The courses for my religious study major allowed me to spend quite a bit of time hiking, climbing, and skiing the Sierras, a passion that I share with my wife, Robin, and hope to pass on to my boys. And I have no doubt that my transcript helped me get into graduate school and end up here at MTS today.
I do wonder, though, what might have been if I had gotten a B that first trimester. Might I have been a bit more risk tolerant and taken that computer science or mechanical engineering course? Even if the courses had not spoken to me the way Zen Buddhism did, might I be a broader and better human being if I had enrolled?
With report cards coming home soon and conferences to follow, I share my own college experience not as a public five-paragraph-long humblebrag, but rather as a reminder of the benefits of grades other than A's. I love the maxim “we are all works-in-progress.” It is my hope that your child’s report card – even those filled with A's – and the conversations that follow in conferences and at home – leave room for and focus on progress. Yes, reviewing vocabulary will help the Spanish grade progress, but taking risks and trying something new will allow your child to progress as a human.
Whether it leads to Buddhist monasteries or mastery of Python programming, progress is a personal priority and one that we highly value at MTS.
- Andrew Davis