when your graduation is not honorable

Like many people I know, I’m graduating college this week. I am so relieved to be done, but at the same time there’s this weight in my stomach. I feel sick, thinking about the fact that I don’t have any further opportunity to raise my GPA and bring honor to my name.

See, I’m not graduating with any sort of honors – personally or academically. It all feels a little less than honorable.

Yeah, the girl who finished high school 3rd in her class, with a 4.3 GPA, 33 college credits already completed before I even received my high school diploma, is graduating college without any sort of thing to be proud of, besides the fact that I barely dragged myself to the finish line.

In some ways I feel fine about this, knowing that in the grand scheme of things, GPA doesn’t matter a great deal. Hardly any employers look at that, my friends won’t ever know, my boyfriend doesn’t judge me. My parents might be a little bit disappointed, but they’re not going to hold it over my head forever. The fact is, I finished, and I did enough to earn this degree. But part of me feels totally disappointed, ashamed, embarrassed. Especially as a Daniels Scholar, I just feel like I owed it to everyone to do better.

Obviously I don’t want to be angry and disappointed at myself for the rest of my life, just because I didn’t do as well in college as I had hoped. And I also don’t want to become bitter towards those people whose GPA and grades really reflect solid and consistent work these past few years. I don’t want to be mad at people who have done an excellent job. So how do you keep from beating yourself up and at the same time, still celebrate those around you who excelled, who received those honors, who deserve the accolades? And you… What do you deserve? What do we deserve for making it through but not really excelling?

The answer is — I’m just spewing out a lot of rhetorical questions and don’t really know the answers to any of this. Honestly sometimes my posts are just a stream of consciousness and I have no idea where I’m headed, so I don’t have answers yet.

All I know is that I’m proud to be done but feel oh-so mediocre right now.

But maybe this is a good thing.
A good lesson, though a hard one.
Maybe this is a big ol’ slap in the face of the reality that most of us go through life feeling pretty average.
Maybe it’s a reminder that we’re not alone in our success and we’re not alone in our failures. Countless people graduate every year with honors, and countless do not.

Maybe it’s a lesson that sometimes you’re going to have to keep pushing forward with something even when other aspects of your life are crumbling. And maybe it won’t be perfect, but at least you are moving and doing. Anything is better than staying put. For me, it was really hard to propel myself forward in the midst of the messiness of last fall. I wanted to quit school, stop going to work, never try out another church, and just stay in bed all day every day. But I knew I had to finish my degree and I had to keep getting up and out of bed every day. I needed to keep going. I just had to focus on each little step, each assignment, each reading for the day. Like in the movie What About Bob? “Baby steps, write a paper. Baby steps, get a college degree…”

I don’t want to sound like I’m only trying to comfort my wounded ego, or that I’m defending mediocrity in general. I’m not.  But as I’m learning, there are just a lot of parts of life where you do what you can at the time, and that has to be enough, and you have to be able to move on without regretting all the work you didn’t do. Be proud of the work that you did, and forgive yourself for the moments when you didn’t study, didn’t put an hour more into that paper, when you spent time with friends instead of doing homework. All of those little choices added up and maybe they weren’t exactly what you hoped for, but in every moment, you were moving forward. You did your best — or maybe you didn’t and that’s still okay. You did what you could, and you learned. Someone said once, “Experience, that most brutal of teachers. But you learn, my God, do you learn” (it was either C.S. Lewis or someone else, as some website told me the quote was misattributed to him; I don’t know). Anyways, how true that statement is. Life can be unforgiving in its lessons, but you learn and move on and remember those for the rest of your life. And while life brutally beats lessons into you, you work on giving yourself grace for your less than honorable moments, and remind yourself that you receive grace from other sources too — your friends, your family, God. Also, just a reminder – God doesn’t care about your GPA. Thank goodness for that.

So, maybe your graduation (or some other aspect of life) feels less than honorable. You’re not super proud, but it’s over and it’s time to move on. And guess what? Regardless of the details, you still completed a four year degree. You did it. No one is going to continue checking your GPA, or ask if you graduated with honors. They just see that you spent four years of your life consistently working towards a big goal and you achieved that. How cool is that? And that’s what I’m going to try to remember through all of my moments of being disappointed in myself. I did what I could, I kept striving forward, I made it, time to move on. Another (maybe) C.S. Lewis quote – “There are far better things than any that we leave behind.”

Keep moving forward! You’ve got this.

-Claire

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