Monday, October 28, 2019

Your Grades Don't Matter (sort of)

Dear Kids,

When I was in the fifth grade, in 1985, I participated in something that has come to be known as "the Mad Libs incident." A group of us (self-proclaimed) super smart kids always finished our work quickly and therefore we were permitted to hang out in the back of the room and do Mad Libs or play Scrabble. Some of the words we chose for Mad Libs on the day of "the incident" were newly learned and not at all school appropriate. The teacher found out. We all got "Bs" in Behavior on our report cards that quarter. (Yes, we used to get actual grades in Behavior.) And our parents had to sign copies of the offensive Mad Libs page. Fortunately, copy machines in 1985 weren't so great and half of the words didn't even show up on the copies. My point is, the trajectory of my life was not greatly altered by the B I got on my report card, even though my ten-year-old self lamented that Harvard now would never give me a serious look.

And my greater point is this - in ten years . . . actually, even less . . . no one is going care whether or not you got straight As in elementary school or even middle school. Or high school. Or college. I promise. They are stepping stones and they serve a purpose. But they are not permanent markers on your being.

This does not mean I'm not proud of you. I love when you bring home fantastic report cards. I also need to be careful sometimes. Do I love your grades because it feels good for other people to see how well my kids are doing? (Thanks, social media) To an extent, I've been guilty of that. Yikes and yuck. I'm sorry about that part. But mostly I'm proud of you because you work hard and because it makes YOU feel good to do well. I love when your grade isn't where you want to be and you take it upon yourself to focus and bring it up.

Sometimes I'm even more proud of your friends! When I go to your awards assemblies every quarter (which seems excessive, but that's another matter), and I see your friends who stand up there time after time with no awards and then finally get handed a certificate for Honor Roll, I think that's awesome. Sorry for running up and hugging them first sometimes. It's a huge deal.

But know this. If you finish high school and get nothing but As, I will be disappointed. (Fortunately, disappointment already is averted for both of you there.) That means that school did not challenge you enough. When I was in high school, I took a lot of super hard classes. I also got every possible grade on my report card at some point (thanks, AP Calculus and Microbiology and AP English and even that one quarter in AP Biology and admittedly some pretty drastic senior-itis).

I want you to struggle in some of your classes. That will serve you well in college or whatever you do after high school. Don't take the easy classes to avoid the challenge. Ever. Get the B or C in the class that made you stretch instead of an A in which you barely exerted effort. Even the valedictorian at my very difficult, top tier high school had at least one B. He went on to some fancy college and probably is dividing electrons into ten pieces and I'm sure no one ever asks him in which class he got a B in high school.

On a related note, I could not tell you if my most trusted doctor or my favorite writer or the amazing attorneys at my law office got straight As or Bs and Cs in school. No clue. Because their success comes from so much more than a report card. And so will yours. And beyond professional success, I have NO idea what kind of grades my girlfriends got in high school or even college. It never comes up. But they are amazing women who have meant more than I can express to our family and to the communities in which they live.

Does having all As open doors to more opportunities after high school and more scholarships? Absolutely. And this single mom of yours is all about you getting some scholarships and having lots of choices in front of you. But please don't be silly like I was when I was ten years old and worry that Harvard will overlook you. Know that you can get at least as good of an education at your state school as you can an Ivy League school. So much of your college education is what YOU decide to put into it. So much of what happens to you after you graduate from any college is what YOU decide to put into it. Grades are one piece of an amazing puzzle that you craft for yourself as you grow and make decisions about your life's path.

Having great grades should be a source of pride for you. It is important. I don't want you to think otherwise. But more important that the letters next to each class is the effort that you put into your work. Be it with academics or your sports or your relationships with your friends, I always want you to give your best effort. Every day. It's when I see that effort, when I see you really care about how you are representing yourself and investing in yourself and others, that I'm most proud of you.