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Sans honors

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My late father would always tell us that he did not expect his children to graduate with Latin honors. What he wanted was for us to understand our lessons and apply our learnings in real life. “I do not want you to miss the essence of education,” he would always say.

My old man made sense. Now that I am an educator, his words resonate even more.

But those words did not stop me from being academically competitive in college. I was a scholar, consistently on the Dean’s List, and most of the time, I came to class prepared. While I was actively involved in many extra and co-curricular activities, including serving as the editor-in-chief of our student publication, I never missed an opportunity to study – not just to memorize concepts, principles, and theories but to understand every lesson. I did this not because I was desperately aiming to graduate with Latin honors, but because I wanted to be ready to explain every lesson to my father when he asked me what I had learned and its practical application in reality. It became clear to me that the best way to explain something is to illustrate it with examples. You can’t do this unless you fully understand what you’re talking about.

I had four fun, enriching, meaningful, and memorable years in college. I chose to be highly competitive, setting targets and ensuring I hit most of them. When I missed one, I accepted it humbly and carried on. Just like triumphs, how we deal with our losses builds our character. These are all part of the journey. Those years are worth looking back on and sharing because I was able to savor the educational experience my late dad did not want us to miss.

It is graduation season once again. It is the time when families celebrate the culmination of years of hard work, perseverance and dedication. It is the beginning of a new chapter in the lives of the graduates. Yet, beneath the surface of this joyous occasion lies a significant source of anxiety for many graduates – the pressure to achieve Latin honors. 

My encounters with learners for decades have opened my eyes to the realities that students face. I have witnessed students pressuring themselves to achieve high grades and becoming frustrated and discouraged whenever they fall short. I have seen some break down emotionally because they fear their parents will not understand and will be disappointed if they do not make it to the honor roll. Sadly, some even resort to unethical means like cheating, just to secure a spot on the honors list. These shortcuts, while seemingly beneficial in the short term, rob students of the true value of their education – the profound understanding of their subjects, the ability to think critically, and the application of knowledge in real-world situations.

Let me be clear: this is not to discredit or invalidate the hard work of academic achievers. I have great respect and admiration for them. Discipline, perseverance, commitment, dedication, and laser-sharp focus, among other values, enabled them to finish strong. My point is that students should not be overly concerned with making it to the honor list at the expense of their mental health and self-esteem.

My point is – in a society that often equates academic accolades with personal worth and future success, the pursuit of Latin honors can overshadow the true essence of education and the diverse accomplishments of each student. Pressure impacts a student’s mental health and self-worth and has implications on the broader educational experience.

These realities make my late father’s message even clearer: never miss enjoying the journey.

The quest for Latin honors often transforms into a relentless pursuit, driving students to fixate on grades and rankings above all else. This tunnel vision can lead to a myriad of unintended consequences, most notably the inclination to take shortcuts in their academic journey. The pressure to secure top marks can push some students to prioritize rote memorization over genuine understanding, choosing easier courses to maintain a high GPA.

Moreover, this narrow focus on academic honors can diminish the appreciation for the holistic learning experience. Education is not merely about earning high grades; it is about the process of intellectual growth, the development of problem-solving skills, and the cultivation of a curious and analytical mind. When students are consumed by the need to achieve Latin honors, they may overlook the importance of engaging deeply with the material, participating in discussions, and embracing the practical application of their learnings. This can result in a superficial grasp of their subjects and a lack of preparedness for the complexities of the professional world.

Graduating without Latin honors does not make you less of a person or a professional. The emphasis on Latin honors also creates an environment where students feel immense pressure to conform to a narrow definition of success. This can lead to increased stress, anxiety, and a sense of inadequacy among those who do not achieve these honors. It is crucial to recognize that every student’s journey is unique, and your worth is not solely determined by your academic accolades.

Success can take many forms, including personal growth, resilience, creativity, and the ability to navigate and contribute to an ever-changing world.

In light of these challenges, educational institutions, parents, and society should foster a more balanced perspective on academic achievement. Encouraging students to value the learning process, to take intellectual risks, and to develop a well-rounded skill set can help mitigate the detrimental effects of the pressure to attain Latin honors. Celebrating diverse achievements and redefining success beyond academic accolades, can create an educational environment that truly nurtures the potential of every student.

As graduation ceremonies commence and students prepare to embark on their next adventures, my dear graduates, remember that the true measure of your success lies not in the accolades you may or may not receive, but in the knowledge, skills, and values you carry forward into your future.      

To the Class of 2023-2024: with or without honors, you have done a great job! Congratulations! Carry on!*

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