I guess you could say I had an unhealthy attitude going into college.
There’s something about enjoying significant academic success in high school that can considerably warp your own perceptions of your abilities going into college.
Personally, I approached my first semester at USC in a pretentious fashion. I figured that since I’d been denied access to the likes of Stanford and the Ivy League, that attending this mere top twenty five school would be a walk in the park, for someone as vastly capable and incomparably intelligent as myself. I mean, I’d gotten a near perfect SAT score and was recognized by the College Board as a Presidential AP Scholar for my stellar performance on my numerous AP exams, among other academic accolades, so, really, what intellectual obstacles could a college throw my way that I was already equipped for? My worth as a student had already been clearly established. Or so I believed.
After a busy semester of significant tribulation, I cannot even begin to express how gravely mistaken and deeply, deeply misguided my thinking was, as these initial few months at college have by far been the steepest learning curve I have yet encountered in my eighteen years on this Earth.
From day one onwards, I would come to learn, setting foot in my first class meeting of the semester, that I was far from the only “smart kid” on campus. Taking my seat in the crowded lecture hall, I was baffled as my peers answered difficult questions, eloquently communicated with the professor, and engaged with the often-cryptic course content in ways that far surpassed my abilities and understanding. I was humbled by the sharpness of these gifted individuals, but equally disturbed as I arrived at the realization of my own comparative intellectual inferiority.
Meeting new friends in the my dorm and out and about, I was also impressed. People were everything from aspiring chemical engineers, to writers of poetry, to pre-med students,to historians, to astrophysicists. I had never encountered such a broad spectrum of academic interests in my life before coming to USC, let alone such a large and diverse group of people so passionate about specific fields of study. I was impressed as I learned more about my peers and their pursuits in the classroom, many of them sounding more complex than anything I’d ever known. As coursework increased in difficulty, I began using my new, smart friends as a resource for study and homework help, a role I had, ironically, once held for many of my friends in high school.
Later on, when the time arrived for examinations, I was again met with a sense of degradation. While I excelled on some tests and quizzes, others proved to be extremely difficult. I received less-than-stellar grades on numerous occasions and even failed an exam, a foreign phenomenon for me. I would hear of others in the class boasting about receiving the only A in a crowded lecture of 75+, or how a problem I had struggled profusely with had been “a piece of cake” for someone else. I learned to worship the curve grading system implemented by many of my professors and opportunities for extra credit essays and labs. By and large, my academic shortcomings were both heartbreaking, and sobering, as I realized only then that I was no exception to the rules, nor was I any more gifted than the other thousands of more than qualified students also attending USC.
It is now, at home after a difficult week of finals, swaddled comfortingly in a blanket and fuzzy socks, that I reflect on this semester in it’s entirety from a place of honesty. While my sheltered high school had allowed me to shine in the classroom, attending a large university, where thousands upon thousands of bright minds congregate, proved that I am but one small cell in the sea of students everywhere who know how to regurgitate material on tests, pen informative essays and answer questions in a meaningful way. For this, I'm deeply and genuinely grateful. USC has brought me back to reality, and allowed me to conclude honestly that I am capable, but by no means am I special. And, frankly, that’s okay.
I can forgive myself for failing to meet my own expectations this semester, and can use my failures as a foundation to build upon over the course of the next three and a half years. I know that I can shine again, even if I’m only one hint of sparkle among thousands of stars in the sky.
Lead Image Credit: Pic Jumbo