Sunday, October 10, 2010

College Reminisce: BOHICA

Rensselaer kicked my young academic ass.

I was a high-flying, straight-A student in high school. I took great pride in my grades. I was always on the honor roll. I did very well in math and science. My SATs were nothing to brag about (below 1200!), but I'm convinced my class rank (top five) coupled with the academic rigor of my high school got me into Rensselaer.

I remember how cocky I was that I had taken calculus my senior year of high school, but in the first week of math at RPI, the teaching assistant derived in one afternoon's recitation everything that I had learned in my entire year of high school calculus. I had one thought when that recitation finished: this was going to be hard.

I thought I had developed good study habits in high school. I thought I understood time management. I thought I worked hard. My grades in college said "there's room for improvement." Instead of A's and B's in my tests, I started receiving C's and D's. I was prone to procrastination. I didn't fail or drop out, but I felt under water nearly all the time.

My sharpest memory of the difficulty of our courses comes from my first finals week. The freshman dorms were quiet with nervous last-minute studying. Every now and then, someone would open their window and let out a primal scream, which would be answered by further screaming as people began to crack under the pressure of cramming a semester's worth of material in one evening. I discovered coffee during this period.

Even after feeling the relief from completing one final, you couldn't rest because another was scheduled the next day. In our dorm, someone bounded out of his room and announced "it's BOHICA time!" Here it comes again, indeed.

The rest of my college academic experience followed a similar arc. Difficult courses, precious few moments of relief, and the constant sense that I was always behind. By sophomore year, I began to accept that I wasn't going to make the Dean's List every semester. By junior year, I began to embrace the mantra that "D" stood for diploma. By senior year, I justified not finishing projects with the grim calculation that project work didn't "count as much" as the final exam.

I did eventually graduate. After a summer and an extra semester, I put together enough classes and passing grades to get a diploma. Just to be sure, however, I rummaged around my attic to find my college transcript. It turns out that I was on the Dean's List four times, and I only had 3 D's and one "incomplete" (for that class in which I skipped the project). My final GPA was a respectable 2.72.

Seeing the transcript makes me sigh with relief even now. I still drink coffee, but I haven't had to scream or think about BOHICA since graduating.

I'm attending my 20th college reunion this month, so I'm posting some college memories.

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