The Almighty GPA

Grades. Often, they can feel like the end-all, be-all of college life. What’s your GPA? How will this class hurt or help it? Will I be able to apply for a scholarship? Will I get it? Who’s doing better than me? If I can’t get an A in this class, does it make me stupid?

Image from Creative Commons on Flickr

Image from Creative Commons on Flickr

I often find myself thinking these questions. From a very young age, the letter grade I got on something directly fed into my self-worth and identity as a person. I know this about myself, and I’ve tried to temper the anxiety that stems from the need for The Almighty A (accept no substitutes, A minuses need not apply).

It’s not easy to escape from the pressure of society, my family, and most of all, the pressure I put on myself. My experience is not unique, either, and in all those I’ve talked to who share the same struggle, there’s a common thread: we’re all women.

Now, I’m not going to claim that there aren’t men out there who experience this, just that

very often boys and men are taught that they have value just for being who they are, for being a man: their opinion and experience is valid and important. Girls and Women, however, are more likely to find their value wrapped up in what they can bring to the world: being beautiful or smart or caring or desirable, and that’s the only way they can contribute to the world. We have to prove our worth.

When I was a child, I would get $1 for every A I got, and if I got a B in something, my parents wanted to know what I’d done “wrong” to get the lower grade. Did I not do my homework? Did I not study enough? The assumption was never that I struggled with the

material or it wasn’t properly taught to me, but rather that I’d just not applied myself. That there was a failing on my part as a person.

Over time, I internalized this to the point of being unable to handle it if I really DID find material challenging. I shouldn’t struggle with anything, and if I do, then maybe I’m not

as smart as I thought I was! Maybe I’ve just been lucky, or only smart enough to do the easy stuff, but now I’m in the big leagues and I can’t hack it.

It’s taken me a long time to realize and accept that a letter grade does not reflect my comprehension of the material, but rather my ability to memorize the right facts and spit

them back out on a multiple choice test. If I come out of this semester and my GPA isn’t a 4.0 anymore, that doesn’t mean I’m not a good student or that I’m stupid.

I am worthwhile. We are worthwhile as human beings, regardless of our achievements, and I think that’s a lesson many women go a long time without learning. Our personhood

and value is inherent, intrinsic, and inalienable. We are more than our accomplishments.