From the time we are little, we are told that A’s are best, B’s are all right, C’s are disappointing, and D’s and F’s are unspeakable. I lived by this system my whole life. I could accept a B every now and then in my high school math class: a subject that is and forever will be my kryptonite. Not making an A was often met with tears and an afternoon begging my teacher to reconsider. I always did the extra credit. I always wanted to be best. When I decided to go to college, I was faced with the hard choice of choosing between UNC Wilmington and UNC Chapel Hill. UNCW was smaller in size, had decent programs, and was right next to the beach. UNC Chapel Hill was my “dream school”. I had talked about going there since I was little. Among other things, UNC is known for its big, beautiful campus, National Championship basketball team, and academic rigor. Naturally, having worked hard to make those A’s my entire middle school and high school career, I chose UNC Chapel Hill the night I received my acceptance email.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I love UNC with all my heart. I have met amazing people, experienced so many memories (getting to hear Chimamanda Ngozi Adichi and President Barack Obama speak!), and challenged myself in all ways possible. However, getting into college left me with the mindset that I could take on anything. When class registration came, I completely dismissed all of my comfort zones. I signed up for college algebra and biochemistry. Even though I had never expressed an interest before, hearing all the people at orientation proudly announce that they were going to be, “biology for pre-med” majors left me feeling like I should do that too. On the second day of biochemistry lecture, we had gone over everything my high school chemistry class covered in a semester. In college algebra, my professor declared that we weren’t allowed to use calculators: a detail that shook me to my very core being, that I hadn’t done math without one since I was in the fourth grade. While everyone else was taking their exam, I wrote “sorry” in the margins and turned in a blank test. I was failing.
I am sure at this point you are thinking, “Michelle you are a smart girl, why didn’t you drop the class?” Well, one thing about me is that I hate to quit. I was convinced that even though the semester had started out tough, I would catch up eventually. I let the ‘drop classes’ period come and go without a blink of an eye. On top of classes being an utter disaster, I was also failing in the social department. My suitemate went on to tell me she didn’t even know my name until the end of the semester, she always had to ask her roommate before asking me something! Initially, I had thought that I would be able to make so many new friends at such a large university. I would leave my small, hometown in the dust and thrive at Chapel Hill. Once again, I was failing. Most days, I would go to class and come back to my room and talk to my mom on the phone. I would cry. I would talk to my roommate but I would never go out. I stopped eating because I hated going to the dining hall alone (I eventually got over that hangup)! I remember one day, after I had taken my first biochemistry exam after studying non-stop for a week, I was standing at the stadium when I found out I made a 45. I wanted to tell someone so they would tell me it was alright. I decided to call my dad because I didn’t want to disappoint my mom. He said, “Well, Michelle, I hope you learned that you need to work harder. What are you going to do about this?” I hung up the phone and broke down in tears. It’s not that my dad is a bad guy—the exact opposite actually—he just chose the wrong moment to be tough on me. I was mortified, angry, hurt and disgusted that I ever had the audacity to think that I could handle anything and everything. A stranger saw me and asked if I was okay.
I told my mom about the grade and nobody has ever made me feel better. I should not have ever doubted this because, in a plot twist I should stop being surprised at, MOMS KNOW BEST. She said she was proud of me regardless and she asked me if I wanted to come home. Spoiler alert, I didn't go home but I failed college algebra and somehow managed to slink away with a D- in Biochemistry. I avoided academic probation by .05 points. I came home for winter break and had to seriously reconsider every plan I had. Did I want to transfer to a different university? Would anyplace worth going accept me with my 2.05 GPA? Did I really want to be a doctor? (because that’s a question every parent hopes their child will ask themselves, right?) Obviously, I decided to stay at UNC. I changed my major and I took mainly electives my second semester. I opened up to my college suitemates and roommate, found outlets in volunteering for Habitat for Humanity, joined a sorority, tried really hard and obtained a job as an RA, took up cycling and jogging, and fell in love with my literature and Spanish classes. I started to feel like myself again.
The point of this long, drawn out tale of how I nearly destroyed myself during my first semester of college is to point out the flaw with the way I had been trained my whole life to desire A’s. The moment I found myself failing that system, I lost my identity. I’m here to say, without one ounce of shame in my body, not making A’s, not even making B’s, is okay. More than okay, it’s perfection. Making A’s had led me to dismiss every other aspect in life. I chose a college based solely off academics and never thought of comfort, adjustment, and lifestyle--factors that aid in success just as much as grades do. I’m here to say making those A’s is great too! As long as you realize, that you should never belittle someone else for what they make. Try hard…if the C is what you get after you busted your butt studying but it still didn’t stick, then that is the best grade you have ever made in your life. I hope everyone succeeds, but I'm here to say...there are so many other parts of life that make a person successful. I didn't plan to go to college and not do well, who does? But that's life and sometimes it hits us harder than a dodgeball on gym day. Just brush yourself off and learn from your mistakes.
We need to reorganize the system. The ABC's of Making A's, B's, and C's needs to change. A’s are amazing, B’s are beautiful, and C’s are courageous. Just try your best and work hard always. Realize that your self-worth should never be defined by a letter on a piece of paper.