Who Am I Without My Grades?: A High School Student’s Diary


Credit: mamewmy

Statement from the Editors: Before reading Hera’s article, please consider that it includes themes of self-esteem, high standards for academic success, and feeling overwhelmed by expectations. We hope this piece brings comfort to those who have experienced similar emotions and thoughts. We also hope that it provides an opportunity for discussion throughout our BIM community. Let us know what you think by sending your comments to [email protected].


Period one: AP Calculus. Time seems to slow as my teacher nimbly sweeps around the room, passing tests back to everyone except me. My seat seems to become painful to sit on, as I squirm impatiently. He finally walks across the room to my seat, handing a packet to me with a smile. A smile…that must mean I did okay, right? Holding my breath, I turned over the paper, silently praying that I got an acceptable grade. All I wanted was a 70%. Then I would get my “five,” then I would be happy. That shouldn’t be too hard, right? As I slowly flip to the other side, I see the number written in red at the top of the page. It seems to laugh at me. A sixty-eight. 

Period two: AP Government. Sleep seems to sneak up behind me every few minutes. It lures me into its trap as I try to keep my eyes open. I went to bed at 1 a.m. because I was studying for today’s Chemistry exam, so I was losing the fight. Badly. In the background of my battle, I can faintly hear my teacher lecturing the class on politics or something. He asks a question. Oh, I hope he doesn’t call on me.

“How about… Hera!” 

The sound of my name revives me from my thoughts. I shoot up in my seat and stumble over my words as I try to answer. My teacher looks at me with disapproving eyes as he calls on someone else. I had failed.

Period three: Honors Chemistry. I have a test. It shouldn’t be too hard, I mean, I spent five hours studying last night. I can’t afford to fail. The timer starts, I quickly turn over the test. As I skim the questions, my heart sinks. These are so much harder than those I practiced last night. In a panic, I look around the room to see if anyone was feeling the same way. No one. They were all calmly answering the questions and bubbling in the answer sheet. Why don’t I understand this? I should understand this! Am I dumb?

Period four: Journalism. I manage to stumble to class, holding back tears at the disaster of the test I just took. I try to hide the fact that I’m crying, sniffling quietly and vigorously rubbing the tears out of my eyes. Hiding my face in my sweater, I sit down and pull out my computer. I come here crying way too often; the others are probably so uncomfortable. It was a work day, so all I had to do was work on my essay. Each time I started writing, my mind drifted. I couldn’t focus, and the sad music playing in my ear was not helping. Streaks of salt appear on my cheeks as I try, once again, to focus on my work. I just give up.

Period five: Lunch. My usual good appetite doesn’t come. The homemade lunch that my mom spent so much time making looks putrid to me. I can hear my friends talking about whatever daily drama is happening, but they’re background noise to my thoughts, even though they’re sitting right next to me. All I could think about was my grades and my test that I failed and my B in Chemistry and my Mandarin test next period that I forgot to study for. My computer is open on my lap, and my past grade reports are pulled up on different tabs. The wretched “Commended Scholar List” certificate that I was given last semester burns my eyes. I switch tabs to my 7th-grade grade reports. The words, “Distinguished Honor Roll” flash onto my screen. Top 5% in my class. Only two people got that certificate, and I was one of them. What happened to me? It felt like I had fallen so far down. I was supposed to be smart; I mean, it was the only thing people ever praised me for growing up, and now I couldn’t even get onto the normal Honor Roll. Yet again, tears threaten to fall, so I slam my computer shut and open my Mandarin textbook to study. Here we go again.

Period six: Mandarin. Skimming over my word list one last time, I enter the small classroom and find my seat. Although I didn’t study too much for this test, I’m confident I will do well. All we had to do was memorize twenty words. Memorization is my forte. The test is short, only taking around fifteen minutes. My teacher grades the papers even faster. Once I get my test back, I flip it over to see a gold star and the number, one hundred, at the top. And although I was happy that something had finally gone my way, I couldn’t help but feel disappointed in myself. The fact that a single test score could determine my entire mood for the day scared me.

Period seven: Honors Language. Picking up the “Do Now” at the door, I sit down to work on whatever grammar practice we had today. Oh, clauses, that’s not too hard. My pencil dances around the sheet of paper, underlining and circling words. Once I finish, our teacher starts the class. As she’s talking, I glance at my friend’s worksheet and notice that one of her answers is wrong. I pick up my pencil again and scribble a little message on her paper, trying to point out her mistake. She scribbles back. “Oh. Oopsies!” I snicker out loud, and I guess it was too loud because I hear my teacher say the infamous line, 

“Hera, do you have anything that you want to share with the class?” 

My smile immediately disappears when I look up and see the entire class’ eyes on me. I instantly react to the attention. My brain clouds over, I start to sweat, and I get squirmy. 

“Uh, no, sorry, I was just correcting her answer.” I hear myself say.

My teacher raises an eyebrow and stares me down for what seems like an eternity. She doesn’t believe me. But she eventually returns to the class, and people eventually stop staring at me. I slump back into my seat and try not to cry. I know it’s stupid; everyone misbehaves once in a while, but the rest of this day has been so bad that everything just piled up on me, and for the thousandth time today, I feel my cheeks get wet.

Period eight: Honors Literature. It’s the last class of the day. I’ll just have to sit through this class, try not to fall asleep, and then I can go home. Surprisingly, class goes by smoothly, and I only fall asleep one time. When the clock reaches three-forty-five, I think I’ve made it, but as I grab my backpack to leave, my teacher’s voice reaches my ears.

“Hera, could you stay back for a few minutes?” she asks.

Sighing, I turn around. I plop back into my seat as people around me start to trickle out of the classroom. Once we were alone, my teacher handed me a piece of paper. Confused, I look at it. Oh. Oh. It’s a grading rubric for the essay I wrote a while back. There’s a long note under the score. The score that is a seventy-three percent. Well, that’s just what I needed, another terrible grade! I almost start to laugh at the cruelty of it, but I decide against it; my teacher would probably think I’m insane. She starts to explain why I did badly, but I don’t really retain any of the information that she’s telling me. All I hear is my brain telling me that I’m dumb. I resist the urge to answer back, “I know.” 

Finally, the day is over. At least I can go home at a normal time today, instead of having to leave school at six p.m. because of extracurriculars. As I walk down to the dismissal area, I catch a glimpse of myself in the reflective glass pane of the door. My face is puffy, my eyes are red, and my hair is a mess. If my mom sees me like this, she’s going to immediately know that something is wrong, and then I’ll start crying again. So, I sprint to the bathroom, leaving my bag by the door. I splash freezing cold water on my face, trying to make my face look as normal as possible. I think I was there for about five minutes before finally stopping. I dry my face off with a paper towel and reevaluate my appearance. Well, it’s a little better; at least my eyes aren’t as red. I exit the bathroom, fiddling with my fingers. I spot my mom waiting in her car, and as I climb into the passenger seat, she starts yelling at me for making her wait too long. She had a meeting to get to, and I was ten minutes late. My brain starts screaming at me as well, seemingly in sync with my mother. As the tears start rolling down my cheeks yet again, it seems the only thing I can think about is how stupid I am.

When she drops me off at home, I’m so exhausted that I can’t even fathom starting on my piles of homework. I just throw the clothes off my bed and climb in. When I look around my room, at my piles of unfinished papers and dirty clothes, all that is going through my head is, “failure.” Am I going to do something about it? No. There’s no point; I’ve already failed so many things today, what’s a little more to add? I lie there for an hour, thinking about why my happiness relies on my grades and my schoolwork. I know that I’m more than just test scores, but most days, it’s hard to believe that. I guess that’s why people call it Academic Validation.