Bucket List item #17: Graduate with honors
I am the person who always needs to go for the highest achievement. It’s been this way for as long as I can remember. I try not to believe that this is something my parents have influenced because they always said they wouldn’t care either way, but I liked that they were proud of me. I remember inviting them to honor roll events as early as elementary school, which is all where it really started.
Part of me blames my obsession with achievement on the academic institutions that taught me there are always high levels and low levels you can be at. In 3rd grade, teachers already start placing us into different levels of reading classes. While it was never called out, everyone knew which class was the highest level.
In 4th grade, I joined EXCEL and CML (Continental Math League). This meant that for a few hours every week, I got to skip out on my normal schedule and join the brainiacs in our own little sessions where we did fun projects and solved complex word problems. This was my favorite part of school. In EXCEL, we created popsicle stick bridges and Rube Goldberg machines, solved puzzles and played logic games, pretended to invest in stocks with fake money our teacher gave us, and just had so much nerdy fun. CML was where I really got challenged for the first time. I really enjoyed math, but these word problems… they even take effort now to figure out. Here’s a few for you to try (you can get the answer at the end of this post):
In 6th grade, I joined WordMasters. This meant staying inside during recess, learning new words and struggling to figure out confusing analogies. I enjoyed continuing with EXCEL and CML, but I hated WordMasters. I honestly don’t know why I participated. I think it was just another thing to add to my academic portfolio and was another thing that made me feel I was pushing myself to a higher level of learning.
In middle school and high school, I took every high performance or AP class that was offered. Mostly, this was supposed to be prepping me for college. One part of me though couldn’t pass up an opportunity to learn at a higher level with peers that I could both relate to and compete with. In high school, I was in the National Honor Society. It was really important to me to graduate with above a 4.0 and achieve the highest honors. When I started college, I entered straight into the honors program because it was all I had ever known to do.
The honors program required me to take a certain number of honors classes a year and to complete an honors thesis during my senior year. The honors classes, while simple to work into my normal college experience, they were definitely more work and caused additional stress that I didn’t need. I don’t know that I enjoyed a single one of those classes, but I had to fulfill the requirements. However, I accepted this. I figured that graduating with Latin honors would look good on applications and eventually help me get into graduate school (which I was way too young to be thinking about… I hadn’t even finished my junior year of undergrad!)
Things turned around in my mind when I started working on my honors thesis. I had to pick a topic during my junior year and then spent the next year and a half working to complete the research and write a giant paper. I was happy to be starting on it, but the summer after my junior year, I had a fantastic internship and got offered a full-time job upon graduation. Starting off my senior year, I had a job lined up and all I needed was to finish off my last few credits. I was getting into the thick of my thesis and it became an incredible amount of work. I started questioning why I even wanted to finish my thesis. Most of the other students in the honors program already dropped out because they didn’t want to write a thesis and already had jobs, like I did. To make things worse, my thesis adviser was a ball-buster. She made me write and re-write so many times and I think I had thesis version #8 before I got it signed off by her.
There was a time when I was thinking of switching topics or dropping the thesis altogether, but after talking things out with my parents, I decided to stick it out. I had already poured so much effort over the years working up to this goal and was so close. Ultimately, I knew I would have been disappointed in myself if I gave up. Graduating with honors is one of those goals that escapes you. It had been a goal of mine for so long that I lost sight of why I wanted to complete it in the first place. If it wasn’t just another achievement, I’m not sure that I would have spent so much time and effort going after it. At the end of the day, I’m glad I persevered through it because I did learn a lot about conducting a research study and writing a thesis. This is a skill that will come in handy if I ever choose to pursue graduate school. However, this experience has also taught me to reevaluate some of my achievement-based goals. Do I really want to go to grad school? Would it be to gain another achievement to add to my resume, or would it be for the sake of growth and learning? Honestly, the answer right now would be a bit of both, so I stay undecided. I thought I’d be heading to grad school in the next five years, but I’m enjoying my life right now and am reminding myself not to rush into anything just because I can.
Answers to the word problems above: C) 22 and D) 320