Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Are Academics Worth It?

That was the question Sarah Strohmeyer asked in her new novel Smart Girls Get What They Want. I lightly touched on the question in my review, but, as a life-long "smart girl", I thought it might be interesting to explore the answer further.

I mean, of course I want the answer to be yes. I don't want to think that missed out on anything or wasted any opportunities. No one wants to think that, right? Which is why I have my list of reasons why my academic experience was great.

First off, the fact that feel that made the most of my education. I tried as hard as I could in every class. I genuinely wanted to learn, and I made sure to learn everything I could. I memorized every list, but I also learned every lesson. As a result, I feel fairly good about my knowledge and skills in every subject from English to math to biology. I like feeling intelligent and informed. I feel like I learned not only how to succeed and get good marks, but also how to overcome challenges and keep trying even when you think you will never improve.

Moreover, I love the feeling academics gives me. I love the feeling of good test mark. I wake up in the morning remembering the unexpectedly high essay mark I received the day before. And, for me, it is not just a hobby or a passion. It is an identity. It is the thing I'm good at. Some people are outgoing and know how to say the right things and impress the right people. Some people are good at sports or drama or some fancy musical instrument. I am good at school. I am the IB kid, the perpetual Honour Roll student, the "smart girl". That who I've been for so long. I don't know what I'd be if you took that away from. I suppose you could view that as a negative. But I'm just so happy that, through academics, I found so many positives. Academics allow me to feel smart and confident and happy. To me, that is not a negative.

Furthermore, academics provided me with a community. In Strohmeyer's novel, the main characters fear that they will have blank yearbooks. Mine was full, every year. Of course, that was large bit of luck on my part. I ended up with the same twenty kids in every class, every year. While that certainly had its drawbacks (which could fill a series of blog posts) it also had so many benefits. I knew those kids and they knew me. I filled their yearbooks and they filled mine. I still see them all the time. And I only became one of them because of academics. Perhaps it was pure luck, how it worked out; all I know, is that I am tremendously thankful for that academic community.

Those are all great things. But they all came at a very, very high cost. The most obvious is time. Like I said before, every minute you spend studying is a minute you're not having fun. That is sacrifice, and it sucks. To be a strong academic student, you have to put in so much time and effort. You lose friends, you lose sleep, you slowly lose your mind.

But you also lose a million things you never ever had. You lose opportunities for new experiences. Here's one: your first job. When I was in high school I was in such a tough academic program that I would've never been able to juggle my coursework with a job. As a result, I am already behind in the job market. While most people my age have years of part time work on their resumes, I only have Honour Roll Certificates. Which makes it really, really hard to get a job now.

But that's not the biggest thing you're giving up. No, the biggest sacrifice I made as an academic student was my social life. Unlike Strohmeyer's Gigi, I didn't have amazing best friends in high school. I had a few friends, even good friends, but not like Neerja and Bea. I certainly didn't have a Mike. Nor did any of my friends. No one dated in my high school class. As a result, we are all now in university, excelling in our classes, but feeling extraordinarily out of place in our social groups. Everyone else has ex-boyfriends and "experience" (whatever that means). Most of us have never gone on a date or kissed a boy or had a boyfriend. We are physically nineteen, but our experience levels with dating are lower than an average fourteen-year-olds. That makes us feel embarrassed and ashamed; I tell you, it near destroys our self esteem.

We often say that we aren't "real" teenagers. We never went to the high school parties or had the high school boy drama. We feel like we're living our social lives four years behind everyone else. That there, that's a big reason academics are not worth it. At least not for us.

So, are academics worth it? I think I'll allow myself to go with the easy, regret-free answer: yes. But don't press me on it and ask if I would "do the same all over again". Because I don't think there's an easy answer to that question. I've done well on all the tests and essays, acing every question. But that's one I think I'll leave blank.

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