• John G. Stackhouse, Jr.

You Are Your GPA

It’s getting towards the end of the academic term throughout North America, and it’s time to confirm a thought that haunt the corners of many student minds particularly this time of year. It’s not a pretty truth, but it needs to be said:

Your intelligence, your chance of competing successfully in the global marketplace, your ability to contribute meaningfully to the world, and your entire worth as a human being is precisely correlated to your grades.

The corollary to this axiom is that you must do everything you can to earn or otherwise obtain the highest grades possible, even if that includes shameless flattery of professors (“Have you been working out, sir?”), dark hints of litigation (“I don’t know how my parents, or their attorneys, will feel about any grade lower than a B+”), or obsequious alacrity in helping in the classroom (“Here, let me move that podium for you, ma’am, and get you some nice, cool water to go with the chocolates I’ve brought, and fan you while you lecture”).

You must also ignore your friends, romantic partner, children, neighbours, and anyone who happens to have fallen among thieves and is now lying wounded at the side of the road.

You must neglect basic habits of personal maintenance, such as proper diet, adequate sleep, vigorous exercise, and even minimal hygiene. (That last one will make your ignoring your friends and family much easier on them.)

You must remember that it is not learning that counts, not the acquisition of skills, not improving your self-discipline, not preparing for a lifetime of service to others, and certainly not glorifying God. No, no, no! All that matters is grades. For they are the true and sole measure of your entire personal worth.

That’s how we think of Mother Teresa, right? Quite the academic powerhouse she was in her native Yugoslavia, and the world admired her for it.

Billy Graham? Globally famous for the senior papers he wrote at the end of his B.A.

Martin Luther King, Jr.? No one would have heard of him if he hadn’t received a doctorate.

All through history, the story is the same. The heroic, the saintly, and the otherwise-admired have had one and only one thing in common: high grade point averages.

Or maybe not.

Maybe, instead, grades matter only to a few kinds of people—or, at least, they ought to matter to only a few kinds of people.

Some people need to know whether they have what it takes to go on to the next level of education. Some people need to know in what subjects their talents lie. Some people need to know whether they should continue in school at all or pursue another line of work. And a very few people will be more competitive in the job market because of higher grades—but not as many as you might think. (Very few jobs depend upon GPA, even in the professions, even in the academic profession.)

That’s it. The rest of us really don’t need to care about grades, do we?

But some people are, I believe, not only sweating over B+ versus B, but are earning A’s and doing so contrary to the will of God. These people are “succeeding” only at the cost of relationships with others, at the cost of their physical and mental and spiritual health, and at the cost of a proper understanding of who they are and what their lives really are about.

And these people usually grow up to be quite successful in their careers, leaving in their wake the predictable wrecked marriages and angry children and furious former friends.

GPA isn’t even a good measures of intelligence, let alone of the total worth of a person. Lots of smart people don’t do all that well at school and finally break out of it, only to prosper in a field in which their talent can blossom.

And lots of people who aren’t particularly brainy contribute to the world according to their different gifts: gifts of kindness, gifts of industry, gifts of reliability, gifts of creativity, gifts of clarity, gifts of hospitality, gifts of love.

So please hear this from a guy who has spent his whole life in the academy and finds great joy in it: It’s just school! And not everybody’s great at it! And it’s good that some people aren’t, so that they get out of school and do something else—which is, let’s be clear, most people!

You are not your GPA. So please, students, don’t succumb to the pressure to act now like you think you are.

I hope instead that during your last weeks of school you will study in order to get out of your schooling what you wanted to get when you started, back in January or September. Remember ‘way back then? Remember what your hopes and dreams were, what your objectives were, what the point of it all was?

I hope that this end-of-term pressure will help you focus on what really does matter to you, rather than on what, for most of us, really doesn’t matter: grades.

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