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When you look back at high school, what do you think you’ll remember the most?
I remember hanging out with my friends at football games on Friday nights; sitting with those same friends in the school hallways each morning, half-asleep, as we waited for our first classes to begin; baking cookies for bake sales to raise money for our clubs; running around the music wing as we prepared for upcoming instrumental concerts.
I remember eating package after package of Smarties candies in precalc class with my three best friends, to the point where we had an entire pile of wrappers between our desks; I remember trying to read the assigned story in Spanish class and being put to shame by my Argentinian friend who reads with a flawless Spanish accent.
As for grades, I remember doing generally well, but being surrounded by high-achieving friends and classmates almost made that a given.
When I think back to high school now, my first reaction isn’t, “Wow! Remember the A I got in my AP Lit class, or the B- I got in physics??” Rather, it’s “Wow, so many memories with my friends, and so many chances for so many more memories I missed out on and will never get a chance to redo.”
Now that I’m halfway through college, what I’ve realized is that my general impression of how good each semester was and how much I enjoyed each of them is directly based on how many fun memories I had with friends, how involved with extracurriculars I was, and what meaningful interactions I’ve had in the classroom, with both peers and mentors alike.
The grades I received and my general academic standing from each semester may slightly influence how I perceive each semester, but they’re far from the only thing, and definitely not the defining factor.
For example, I did extremely well academically second semester freshman year, making Dean’s List for the first time. When I think back to my grades and how well I did that semester, I do feel proud, but it’s a slight twinge of a feeling rather than one that washes over me and make me happy. And to me, that’s a very important distinction, because I believe that the feeling of being genuinely happy will have a much longer and more lasting impact than feeling momentarily proud over some grades.
The thing is, grades don’t usually tell a story the way memories with friends do. Most of the time, grades are just numbers and letters assigned to work you did at one point in your life. As such, I don’t consider them to be “accomplishments” in the true sense of the word.
So I got an A in my cognitive sciences class; should I be rejoicing? Sure, but then again, I earned that A in part by participating in research studies for extra credit. I got a C in organic chemistry. Does that mean I slacked off and didn’t care? Hardly. On the contrary, I spent many a late night at the library, trying to make sense of ester bonds and phenols and Diels-Alder reactions.
These objective grades don’t reveal my subjective struggles and triumphs, and as much as I might stress over them occasionally, I refuse to let them define me. Given how much schooling I have left ahead of me (hey medical schools, please accept me), I’m sure whatever memories I do have of grades will soon be replaced by names of organs and drug reactions and cell types.
Ultimately, it’s all the little things that make the best memories: trekking through a foot of snow to get ice cream in January, trying (and failing) to rap along to Eminem, watching sunsets on the slope while eating dinner.
Even for all things academic related, what sticks with me the most from high school is not the 4/10 I got on an English pop quiz or the C I got on a physics test (and honestly, I don’t even remember most of my other grades at this point). What I remember is playing Words with Friends with my math teachers, exploring our school pond with my biology teacher, and hearing the crazy stories about my history teacher’s clothing malfunctions and her cat’s antics.
In college, some of my favorite memories when I think about classes include joining my Anatomy and Physiology professor in her knitting circle and hearing about her research, sitting down with my Art History professor to ask about apprentice training during the Renaissance, and listening to my History of Medicine professor talk about ancient Greek medicine (it helped that he had a sick Australian accent).
As for grades, I could probably tell you what I got in each of those classes, but on specific assignments? Those numbers and letters have pretty much faded from my memory, and it’s just as well; they’d be unnecessarily taking up space I could use for more useful and meaningful memories.
I wish I could have told my high school self to not obsess over getting a 100 on that unit test and fretting over the 91 I got instead. In the grand scheme of things, I honestly doubt it would have mattered much, if at all.
Instead, I wished I had branched out more, spoken to more people, gotten to know others. Because in the end, the memories that stuck with me the most are interactions with other people; the grades, while important in the moment, are nothing to lose your mind over.
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