Valedictorians

I had a moment in high school where I was appalled that I didn’t make the top grade.

The F??!?!

My best friend, at the time, was constantly obsessed with getting the best grades. Quite naturally, we weren’t quite friends, but more of competitors for the grade. We were nearly opposites in the way we approached school. That is, nearly all classes came naturally to me. Of course, I was placed in the honors track for math (she wasn’t). Of course, I would take tests without really studying (or if I did, it often was at the very last minute because procrastination was built after I discovered that I preferred online chat rooms rather than studying).

I remember a desperate moment in science class in 8th grade. Or perhaps it was 7th? For some reason, the teacher had decided that the class would be split into two groups. One group would do some group activity. The other would take a test. I am not quite sure where that idea came from, but I approached it. With that oh so innate talent of mine, I whizzed through the test without much thought. For her, however, she couldn’t concentrate. The noise from the group activity was so distracting that it caused her to lose focus and the lack of focus led to tears. Eventually, the teacher allowed her to take the test elsewhere. But I remember thinking: how silly.

Now, I was accused in college by a (now former) friend who said that I had so much potential but I didn’t apply myself. Granted, at Berkeley, I wasn’t necessarily scoring the top grade. Part of me was that I was quite aware that I knew that with all the studying, I wasn’t passionate about the subject. Computer science? Pah! Even though I was intending to major in it (and later got rejected), I suppose that I knew that I didn’t like it. It was so boring and put me to sleep. I wasn’t passionate enough about it. So without that passion, how could I learn?

“But you can apply yourself, Jenn!”

Now it’s not that I am a constant slacker. With diligence, I did have an overinflated high school GPA (with all those AP classes of course) and scored relatively well on all my AP tests. I worried about my grades. But if I got a B, no big deal. My GPA in college did fall under 3.0 (mostly because due to the aforementioned lack of interest in computer science). But I did go to Berkeley after all. And did get a masters at Carnegie Mellon University. So yes, I did apply myself (and yes, a dose of privilege from my family did help).

But it’s infuriating to think that those years in middle school and high school, I needed to be valedictorian. Maybe I am thankful that my parents didn’t push me to be that (they would have appreciated it). But I grew up with this drive to be different which didn’t allow me to conform. With that rejection of conformity, I did experience a lot of pain.

And then. There’s this fantastic article about valedictorians where I nearly yelped with glee. PROOF that my grades didn’t matter. That (now former) friend had posted it on Facebook with a sad face. Well then. It’s not that I have become a millionaire. It’s that I have stayed with my passions. I don’t know if it has made me a better person since I obviously am showing some vindictiveness. But I do remember in my final conversation with her. I complimented her on her ability to raise a kid in a city she hadn’t lived in for over 10 years. And to move beyond her PhD. In return, she openly said, “You decided on a career to do what you wanted to do. You wrote a book. Sometimes I think that you’re happier than I could ever be.”

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