Hands cold, sweaty palms, heart thumping; butterflies in our stomach and wild thoughts beginning with “what if…” running through our minds – seated in the Multi-Purpose Hall, Mr. Chan’s run-through of our “record-breaking” statistics were just numbers. The applause at our collective results served no consolation, I had to remind myself to just breathe. I had imagined for myself what results release would be like countless times, every time going through the same prep talk (“this doesn’t define you”); but at that point, my mind was blank.
Two days on from the release of results, stories commending the mental strength of fellow peers who pulled through ‘A’ Levels flood my Facebook News Feed. These stories bring to the spotlight peers who struggled with various disabilities amidst the ‘A’ Levels, each inspiring in their own way and deserving of our respect and admiration. This piece, though, is for the able-bodied peers – no disadvantage of having to take special care of health, no misfortune of distraction from home, none of that. Rather, the mixed emotions from our column of grades find themselves from a very different origin that many may fail to understand. “Good enough already, be thankful.” – you don’t understand.
For us who are fortunate to have sufficient resources, a safe home and a healthy body, the emotional stress is indescribable and it is exactly because of this privilege. When the circumstance in which you were prepared for the exam is the best anyone could ask for, the only explanation for slips in grades become us, as individuals. Today I speak for those who are disappointed with their grades, some of whom are made to feel ashamed of their disappointment, which some perceive to reflect a lack of gratitude. “At least you can get into university…” is no consolation, it is an awful lack of empathy. The birth of the disappointment lies in the gap between “what it could be” and “what it is”. The tension between the two is where the suffering lies and we create for ourselves the standards of “what it could be” – understand that and then, you can offer consolation.
My friends, you have done well. Remember the late nights studying, the consults through the holidays, the revision lectures and the after-school study groups? The hard work put in has done justice to our capability and the grades must not invalidate any of it. We’ve done what we can. Where the disparity between “what it could be” and “what it is” exists, cry and be disappointed, it is only natural. I can offer no consolation to the reality where efforts do not necessarily translate into (tangible) results – you deserved better for what you had put in. Above all, though, remember you are not your grades. Your value as a person and a learner goes far beyond what the column of grades may tell others: scholarship boards and admission officers that fail to judge holistically will be at the losing end.
I have found myself at the front of classrooms often – as a student care teacher, when running the ‘Imagining Possibilities: Cats in Hats’ initiative, rolling out our Youth Corps local project with Lakeside Family Services and in tutoring in the UPstars program. Time and again, I have championed the belief in the potential of the young regardless of academic grades. There is irony in our conviction about separating the value of a person from how they do in school when nurturing others, but being so hard on ourselves when we look at our own. Perhaps, it is the tyranny of expectations that creates the discrepancy.
Dear you, the value of you has not changed one bit in the eyes of all who truly love you. The only thing that has changed is your own view of yourself. People tend to underestimate how deeply you may experience disappointment and try to convince you it shouldn’t be how you feel. But only you can truly decide that for yourself – the disappointment is real and so is this reality. Nevertheless, the amazing things you have once done (the late nights studying, the consults through the holidays, the revision lectures and the after-school study groups) besides this silly exam are all real. The grades are a measure of how you performed on that one day, in that one exam and not of anything else. You’re okay. Love, yourself.
Lesson for this episode – to forgive ourselves.
P.S. I hope you’re not about to drop a comment or slip me a message telling me how to feel, because then you might have missed the whole point of this piece.