Opinion: Graduates need to know life is bigger than GPAs

By Bonnie Jean Feldkamp

“Your success in high school does not determine your success in life.” My high school English teacher Chuck Keller told me this, and it was exactly what teenage me needed to hear. Chuck was right, and I’m here to pass on this little nugget to young adults today.

It’s graduation season, and society has a way of making kids think that their future rides on every grade they’ve ever gotten in high school. They worry that their success is built upon every scholarship or academic award they’ve ever received. In a select few degree programs that might be true, but for the vast majority of us, it’s just not. A meritocracy saddles students with imposter syndrome and unnecessary shame over what is quite possibly the most tumultuous four years of their lives.

The fact is no one cares anymore that I failed algebra or that I went to summer school. No one cares that I was once ineligible to compete in state competition with the marching band because I was failing biology.

My boss cares only about the skills required to do the job.

I did not fit in the traditional path of many of my peers, and that’s OK. I learned what I know now from editors who believed in me. I am the result of informal apprenticeships and the desire to learn. I learned most when given the space to explore what mattered to me, while having the opportunity to fail and to try again. Maybe my dad is right when he says I learned most things the hard way. But without a grade or evaluation attached to it, I was much better able to integrate my experiences into my skill set and it has brought success and pride to my everyday life in meaningful ways. Even without a college degree.

Life is so much bigger than one’s GPA, and there are a myriad of paths, all of which are valid. Life is full of relationships and learning and pursuing individual interests that give each of us that feeling of fulfillment. Life doesn’t need to be a constant hustle. It doesn’t need to be quantified or validated by anyone but oneself. Each of us gets to decide what it means to live our purpose.

That is the message I want our young people to hear as they collect their diplomas and enter into this world. Put down your phone. The comparisons we subject ourselves to in the highlight reels on Instagram is not where joy lives. Joy and meaning are found in one’s purpose. Focus on that and you will succeed.

If you’re attending a graduation service or party to celebrate a graduate, give that young person in your life the opportunity to explore and discover life for themselves with your confidence, love and support.

— Bonnie Jean Feldkamp is a syndicated columnist with Creators


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