Published on Meld Magazine.

Marcella Purnama discovers grades aren’t the best measure of success.
THE first time I discovered grades ruled my life was when I was preparing my high school graduation speech.

I came across American student Erica Goldson’s words, which struck a deep chord in me. She said in her valedictorian speech:

“I have successfully shown that I was the best slave. I did what I was told to the extreme. While others sat in class and doodled to later become great artists, I sat in class to take notes and become a great test-taker. While others would come to class without their homework done because they were reading about an interest of theirs, I never missed an assignment. While others were creating music and writing lyrics, I decided to do extra credit, even though I never needed it.”

We sometimes forget that education is about learning. It becomes apparent now as I enter university, that I used to study for the sake of studying, for the sake of getting good grades.

Even now, it sometimes still feels like a frantic race, as people around you strive for that prize called high distinction for every subject. There’s nothing wrong about excelling in our studies of course. In fact, we ought to do our best to get good marks – but how good is good enough?

My elder sister is in her final year of medical school at Melbourne University. She is at once excited, anxious and scared. She is uncertain about her chances of getting a job here in Australia as an international student, and there are not enough training places for everyone. She resents the fact that friends will have to compete against each other to get the top marks and top jobs.

For me, I’ve long given up trying to “compete” with my peers, especially local students for whom English is their first language. If you’ve ever sat in on an arts tutorial you would know how difficult it is to get a word in, let alone be heard. It takes courage, lots of it.

At other times it is easy to forget the joy of learning when you are faced with a seemingly never ending stream of assignments, tests, and exams. It is tempting to measure your success based on your grades. If I do well, I will be happy. If I score badly, I will feel miserable for the next few days, especially when you have a straight H1 student sitting by your side.

Of course, not every student thinks like me. I know a friend who holds a very different attitude towards university life.

“Pass is enough,” he tells me.

“But more than that, it is a bonus. For me, grades are important. I always aim to get C at the very minimum. But I never sweat at it too much. Knowledge itself is more important than some written exams.”

I stand convicted.

University was never meant to be a pressure cooker. We come to learn new things, not just for the getting of good grades or jobs. More than that, we learn because we are passionate about what we are studying. It’s all about seeing the bigger picture. Good grades aren’t the guarantee for success in life.

I watched a Bollywood movie called 3 Idiots last night, and there’s a quote that I want to leave you with:

“Most of us went to college just for a degree. No degree meant no plum job, no pretty wife, no credit card, no social status. But none of this mattered to him, he was in college for the joy of learning, he never cared if he was first or last.”

Marcella Purnama is a second-year psychology and media and communications major at Melbourne University.