The week before finals, when I was writing one of my essays, my dad made me realize that I didn’t have to stress out about school as much as I had been. The essay was not where I wanted it to be at that point, and I texted my dad, asking him to send up some prayers for me. I told him that I was stressed that the essay would not be good enough, and that I really needed divine intervention. My dad replied that he would of course pray for me, but that I really shouldn’t stress out about the essay. He pointed out that stressing about work is not worth it because as long as I did my best, there was nothing else I can do about it. From that point on, I fixed my attitude about my essay, finished it to the best of my ability, and moved on to other assignments.
My dad revealed a very important lesson. Oftentimes, we associate our self-worth with our worldly successes. When we do poorly in school, don’t perform the best in sports, and don’t execute well for our bosses, we decide that we are worth less. This is a flaw in our culture. It shows that we value people, including ourselves, for how they can benefit us in situations. We “aestheticize” people, that is, we use people in a utilitarian sense, taking what will benefit us and leaving the rest. Instead of looking at people as unique human beings, we sometimes only see people for how they may help us. And, to a certain point, this may be necessary. We may become friends with someone because we have to in order to survive. But if we are only friends with them for that reason, we miss out on any deeper meaning in the relationship.
When we view our worth as directly related to our worldly success, we limit ourselves to just our capabilities for success. For example, if I thought that I was a great person based off of a great paper grade, I would only be judging my character based on my ability to write. That would be a very inaccurate way to judge myself. Perhaps my grades show determination, will-power, commitment, and an ability to understand. But sometimes people get good grades because they know what the teacher wants, or because they were born with a specific talent. A grade doesn’t directly reflect the time you placed in the course or the level of understanding of the material. Perhaps you understood the material, but simply didn’t test well, or wrote in a particular style that the professor didn’t like. All in all, judging ourselves based on how well we did in the class limits the value of the class itself and shows a lacking in recognizing the transcendent worth in knowledge from the course.
As cliché as this will be, our grades truly do not define us. Although grades and GPAs may affect our scholarships and may demonstrate our determination to do well in classes, they do not always reflect our transformation throughout the semester. We should look at school beyond our grades. Instead of limiting courses to credit hours and grades, we should view courses as ways to grow in our life. We should keep in mind the higher purpose of learning. Like the man in Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, who is released from the darkness and finally understands the light through education of the light, we are able to understand things in life in a deeper, more truthful way through education.
Thus, through education, we may learn how to live better. At Hillsdale College, students sign an honor code rather than reading a list of “do’s and don’ts.” The honor code, which states “A Hillsdale College student...through education, rises to self-government,” demonstrates the importance of education. Through gaining wisdom and understanding in education, we are able to understand our role in society and things in life in a deeper way. This understanding, thus aids us in having full lives. Therefore, rather than limiting our education to numbers and letters, we should recognize the greatness in education as that which helps us order our lives for the better.
Jessica De Gree
Jessica teaches English as a second language in Spain and plays basketball professionally there. She recently received her Bachelor's degree from Hillsdale College, one of the nation's top Liberal Arts schools in MI. At Hillsdale, she played basketball and studied English and Spanish. Some of her hobbies include reading, writing, painting, surfing, and playing the piano.