‘A’ Doesn’t Stand for Average


Before I graduate from Middlebury this spring, my last goal is to get a C on my final transcript. And fellow seniors, if you haven’t yet, I think you should try to get a C too.

Not a B-.

Not a C+.

Just a big, fat C.

In the final weeks that remain, I challenge all of us to forgo getting the last A in the classroom so that we can spend a little more time loving ourselves and each other in this wonderful place, and a little less time in the library. The hardest thing to do at Middlebury isn’t to get the A; it’s to be imperfect and happy.

It’s no secret that we, as Middlebury students, are obsessed with perfection. For many on this campus, getting a B+ is a letdown. I’ll be the first to admit it; over my four years here I’ve struggled in this place, where people constantly seem to define themselves (and their peers) only by their successes. Getting great grades is an important part of our individual identities. And it’s inevitable, given that the golden ticket to getting into Middlebury in the first place shows off the spoils of near-perfect high school report cards and test scores.

Once accepted students arrive, they find that Middlebury’s culture of perfectionism isn’t confined to academics; it’s about how you look, how athletic you are, how involved you are in student-run clubs and, of course, about with whom you socialize. “She’s Phi Beta Kappa,” or “He ran the Boston Marathon (in 2 hours and 45 minutes!)” or “He’s the one who got the job at Goldman Sachs” are real responses I’ve received when I’ve curiously asked, “Who is that?” Answers like these imply that, here, trying and failing is simply not something we do. And by allowing (and even encouraging) us to think this way, Middlebury is also failing us.

My last-semester goal of getting a C is a way of proving to myself that my self-worth is not tied up in an external evaluation of my performance, that who I am is not how I measure up, and that happiness comes from many sources besides academic success. Getting a C isn’t about blowing off work or consciously doing a less-than-stellar job; it’s about accepting that life is made up of choices. It’s about choosing to go skiing on the best powder day of the year, returning to the library after the mountain closes to do three hours of work and then dropping everything to comfort a friend who needs to talk. It’s about simply trying something new and struggling along the way. It’s about self-care – realizing you are getting sick and choosing to go to bed at midnight instead of 3 AM, studying less (but feeling much better) as a result. And it’s about being honest and not bothering to make excuses when work is turned in late or isn’t of the highest quality.

When I look back on my time at Middlebury, I’ll remember snowy Sunday afternoons on Ski Patrol, growing YouPower into the organization that it is today, and laughing with friends over wine and home-cooked meals. My biggest regret during my four years here? Not spending enough time doing those things and spending too much time lusting after straight As. And no matter how much I thought I could balance “doing it all,” I can recall having more than a few meltdowns when faced with the harsh reality of having to prioritize.

Middlebury has taught us many things, but accepting that we can be less than perfect is something that we must teach ourselves. So fellow seniors, if you’ve already gotten a C, congratulations! Wear it like a badge of honor. If you’re brave, tell your friends and help defuse the notion among our perfectionist peers that getting a C is the end of the world. If, on the other hand, you’re someone who still can’t stand the thought of ruining your perfect transcript with anything less than an A- (the horror!), know that the real world doesn’t always dish out good grades and ask yourself if you are ready for that.

In the coming weeks, let’s strive to do work that professors will be quick to describe as “acceptable,” “mediocre” or “fine” at best. Before we leave this hallowed place, we need to rise to meet one last challenge. We must prove to ourselves that it is okay to be average.

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