Imagine this. It’s toward the end of the quarter. For the most part, midterm season has come to a close. When you look down, an exam you have just received is in your hand — a thick packet with your grade in red, circled on the front. You didn’t do nearly as well as you hoped. In fact, you barely passed.
This isn’t the first time this has happened. You fold it up and stick it in your backpack. Although it’s out of sight, your grade is far from being out of mind. And here, looking up at Hoover Tower and all it stands for, you feel remarkably small.
It doesn’t make sense. You did all of the problem sets, went to as many office hours your schedule could accommodate, completed the extra practice problems. You worked with your study group and did work on your own. You made this class your priority. In other words, you did everything you could.
This isn’t necessarily about duck syndrome. You are well aware that some of your peers are struggling, perhaps struggling more than you are. And it’s comforting to some extent, knowing that you aren’t alone. But after a while, you start to think that maybe you don’t have “it” — the spark, the capacity to perform well. You need to work hard to understand concepts that should be intuitive, and yet, even when you think you’ve grasped them, your grades prove otherwise. You aren’t good enough.
You know your grades should not define you. The same thing that goes for weight and age applies — they’re just numbers. But it’s hard not to feel discouraged when consistently, your hours of work yield you nothing but failing or almost failing grades on your assignments. In these moments, you might question why you’re here or what it is you’re doing.
People say that we often forget we’re at Stanford for school, for a degree — that our involvement in student organizations and communities should be a peripheral part of our time here. I disagree.
More often than not, it’s the people around us and the experiences we share with them that make us who we are. I know I learn more about myself when I’m having a vulnerable conversation with a new friend than when I’m sitting in a chemistry lab, pipetting acetic acid into a beaker. I learn the most about myself in the few moments when I am not doing homework. Yes, failing builds character, and there is something to be said about challenging yourself with classes outside of your comfort zone. But what about other challenges? Why doesn’t learning how to be an empathetic, compassionate listener or learning how to navigate uncomfortable conversations about sensitive issues have the same merit as getting an A in chemistry?
We did the hard part — we got in. And, ever since move-in day, everything on this campus, every building, every university-sponsored event, has been for us. Yes, classes are important. We do want to graduate, after all. But are they why you chose Stanford?
Think back to when we were seniors in high school. When we answered “What matters to you and why?” was “acing my classes” an answer? No, most of us wrote about family, about causes we wished to further, about the groups we wished had stronger voices in our world. Our younger selves saw the big picture.
Remember what matters to you and why it does. Remember why you’re here.
Contact Amanda Rizkalla at amariz ‘at’ stanford.edu.