In anticipation of this week’s topic and the stress of final exams, I informally polled students and professors how they felt about the Spring semester.
The answers were given in an almost unanimous disbelief that just over 2 weeks remained until the semester was over. For professors, the biggest issue was ensuring that they could cover everything they had skipped after Spring break in the last few days prior to the finals. For students, the immediate anxiety was the preparation for the final exams.
I am a student as well. So I pushed my fellow students into giving me a more definite answer.
So what if finals are just around the corner? What makes this final different from other finals of previous semesters? I asked.
Understandably, some students threw me quizzical looks.
“What do you mean by that?” came the protests. “I need to get an A so it looks good on my transcript!” 😠
To such answers, I laughed.
Oh God. What was it all worth? Or, better yet. Was it all worth it?
I get it. We all want good grades for our own reasons. That’s why we study and work hard in and out of our classes. But education is more than getting an A, B, or C. Education represents a learning curve, a curve that has no endpoints and no termination. Education is a process of growth, not a point to struggle and fret over.
Grades matter because they represent our individual investments in education. But who will grade us when we are done with our college studies? Who will direct the course of our moral and spiritual growth? Who will help us mature into responsible adults?
That onus will be on us. And us alone.
For me, seeing this generalized anxiety over final exams was unfortunate because it was narrowly tailored towards the accomplishment of one specific goal: getting an A grade. Then washing our hands off our classes and saying goodbye to our teachers. Graduating with a degree in our hands. Hugging our families and friends while reminiscing over months and years of sweat and tears we exhausted over homework assignments and tests. And then landing a 9-to-5 with just as much misery as we had brought upon ourselves in the course of our college careers.
What I am trying to say is that intelligence does not equal maturity. Intellectual ability and resulting achievements are precious attributes of a good student. But what is one to say about the virtue of maturity?
Our individual lives are an amalgamation of the good and the wicked, the vice and the virtue, the ignorance and the illumination. Our individual experiences shape us into more mature beings. Just as when we were young, we stumbled and were lucky to be picked back up by our parents. We had someone to guide us, to teach us, to mold us.
But then life happened. Some of us fell astray from the right path. Some of us fell prey to pernicious influences. And yet some of us began to idealize education as a means to get good jobs. How so? We rationalized that it would be done by getting good grades.
The stages of growth and development in our lives vary from person to person. Some of us have gone through unimaginable, unforeseen sufferings while others have gone through their entire lives without as much as being prickled by a needle.
I tend to think that what gives meaning to our lives is the evolution of our separate journeys. Learning is a continuing process and it won’t end when we are finished with the grueling schedule of these next few days.
It won’t break our backs if we were to get less than an A on the final exams. Reaching for the stars is a commendable pursuit. But it is not a defining one.
If we have not already seen plenty of challenges that life deals us, we will come to face them sooner or later. When that happens, no amount of cramming for an exam will have us fully prepared for the real-life obstacles. That is when maturity will be our most strongest asset. And if we lack an understanding of the adversities we will face, our biggest failure will be in failing to broaden our horizons beyond the strictures of tools of education.
I used to believe that knowledge for the sake of knowledge itself is enough. That if I walked into an educational institution, my goal should be to get an education and then be on my way. How to get an education? By listening to lectures, writing papers, and studying for exams. Often, I tried to look at the bigger picture. I liked to think about the application of knowledge, but eventually dismissed it as an abstraction.
It was, I confess, the biggest mistake of my life.
Knowledge for the sake of knowledge itself does not benefit anyone. Knowledge for the sake of service moves and shakes the world.
That’s why the final exams we should be worrying about is one of introspection, of opening our hearts far and wide and extending our hands to those not as fortunate as we are.
If we aim to breach the barriers in the way of our success, we have to consciously begin from our intentions. The larger purpose of our lives will then become much more transparent. And only then — we can proudly proclaim — the sacrifices of our parents, our teachers, our mentors, and all those who guided us will water the tree of knowledge.
Intelligence is not a measure of maturity. It may help us reach maturity if we are lucky to be equipped with relevant life experiences. But maturity often comes when we are forced to confront the errors of our ways. If we attempt to amend those errors, we have already passed the most important final exam of our lives.