“The Blessing of a B-” was the name of a book that I often used to see around my home. Its orange cover and rainbow spine would always draw my eye as I passed by its bookshelf. I didn’t realize it was a parenting book until I became curious and read the back cover, on which author Wendy Mogel extols reframing worries and frustrations as blessings to promote resilience in the adolescent offspring of her readers. That’s as far as I got. It was a little too insightful for my 16-year-old self. I wedged it back on the shelf.
Yet I have always remembered that title, maybe because of the snappy alliteration, but also because I thought that calling something like a B- a blessing was odd. I don’t consider grades to be blessings. The gratification that I find upon receiving them is rooted in feelings of fulfillment from my achievement.
In high school, I most enjoyed the classes in which I excelled. Being challenged wasn’t quite on my mind, and I wasn’t unique in that regard. Like most high school students with their eyes on college, I was considering the whole picture: an ideal balance of difficult yet doable classes to produce the perfect transcript. A pediatrician that I’d visited as a teenager hit it on the nail when, about to stick a tongue depressor down my throat, she said, “Now Julia, what do you want your high school transcript to read when you apply to college?” It was terrifying.
College was a different ballgame. During my first semester, I was floored by the number of course opportunities and subjects I’d never heard of. To top off a comically diverse course load, I enrolled in CS50 and subsequently attended every minute of every office hours, four nights a week. After those ended at 11 p.m., I would sometimes continue working until 4 a.m.
Some of my dearest friends struggled alongside me that semester. We still laugh and shake our heads incredulously that we devoted so much time to one course that first year. “Never again will I take a computer science class. My transcript is still recovering,” they lament. “I have my two QR credits. That is enough for a lifetime.”
But that wasn’t my last computer science course, and no, I’m not a computer science major. It was and still is one of the hardest classes I’ve taken. What grade did I receive? It’s not important, nor do I care or remember. What I do remember, however, is the gratification I felt from debugging code or the reprieve every time a problem set compiled. The amount that I learned from the course rendered the grade completely unimportant.
In college, my attitude about class selection and grades has changed drastically. Instead of gravitating toward subjects that I’m good at, I’m more concerned with which subjects are good for me, regardless of difficulty. My transcript is not some pristine treasure that requires curation. If taking courses that expand my skill set and breadth of knowledge sully it, all the better, because I will graduate with more to show for my education and ability.
I’ve found myself in a plethora of foreign language, biology, history, psychology, archaeology and sociology courses. I’ve recently been on a statistics binge. Because I take so many classes outside my majors, I’m constantly asked, “What are you doing here?” I often encounter surprised, skeptical reactions to my conscious choice to take demanding courses that I want, rather than need, to take.
The tendency of many students is to remain comfortably within their realms of study, rarely veering into new subjects and only dabbling in diverse fields to fill distributional requirements. We are unwilling to risk our carefully crafted transcripts and GPAs.
Yale students need to learn the value of being challenged and how to practice academic resilience if a difficult class results in disappointment. We don’t learn for learning’s sake anymore. A spot at Yale promises frustration and struggle, and if we allow this to discourage us from intellectual enrichment, we run the risk of graduating as one-dimensional people. It takes practice to confront, work through and accept challenge.
In Judaism, to study is to perform a mitzvah, or good deed. The choice to study tedious subjects is considered an honorable endeavor for self-betterment and growth. The difficulty of learning can dampen the desire to challenge oneself when the reward is a grade. In my mind, the act of receiving a grade signifies perseverance, not failure or success. It means you’ve made it through a class with knowledge you didn’t possess before. No grade, regardless of the letter, can devalue what you’ve gained. There’s always a blessing in a B-.
Julia Kahn is a junior in Silliman College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.