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I am an okay student. Not exceptional. Not extraordinary. Just okay. While much of the university culture discourages this honesty through fueling a competitive spirit, I’m here to tell you it’s okay to be okay. 

This is not meant as a means of belittling myself or making an excuse for the grades I receive, but a way to come to terms with how I’m performing at the University. On our campus, it’s more worthy to brag about grades and use them as a measure of worth against others in the classroom over the value of personal growth and learning. We neglect the value in personal achievement when we measure success in this competitive environment.

It’s also not a means of accepting mediocrity in classroom performance. An okay student can still be trying their very hardest only to not perform at the same level as their peers. And this is OKAY. 

Was being okay easy to accept? HELL no. I crossed the line of trashing my value at the University many times. I questioned why the University chose me to be here. I hated myself for not being as good of a musician or student as my peers, and was jealous of the grades they seemed to achieve effortlessly while my grades seemed mediocre in comparison. I felt I was working as hard as I could, and still not amounting to much. Even at my intellectual breaking point, being brought to tears before a professor when I felt I had nowhere else to turn to, he simply said “You are not trying hard enough. Try harder.” 

It hurt. 

I expected to thrive here like I had in high school from the moment I arrived on campus. As I quickly discovered, I was a big fish in a small pond that was, well, yeeted into an ocean full of very big fish. 

It wasn’t until the second half of my freshman year that the true value of not being the best hit me. 

I realized I was measuring my success against what the competitive culture on campus defines as success — GPA and classroom prowess. Success should be seen in growing into oneself and the process of growth that the university inspires, not what your grade is in comparison to your classmates. Comparison is toxic. To me, success is simply being at this university, and honoring those back home in promising to make the best of this opportunity. It’s a blessing. 

Like many others on campus, there are other things that bring me more joy than receiving the same grade as my peers. These feel worth my energy and effort, more so than stressing about how I am performing in comparison. At the end of the day, am I going to remember my time at the university in my GPA or in the many friends and memories I’ve made through being a part of various groups?

There are many other things that play into academic success here. We should consider that we’re all coming here with different levels of experience, each that comes with its share of privilege. High school course rigor, available resources, and financial stability all factor into how much adjustment to make for success at this university. We all have the opportunity to be successful here, but for some, it’s going to take a little longer to find academic stride. 

There are also people battling personal demons that only made themselves known through triggers the university fuels. That’s a struggle all in its own. Competitiveness in the classroom only adds to the weight of overcoming these, as it can seem impossible to focus on personal growth at this university. Again, I am speaking from experience. It mattered more to begin coping with mental health issues the campus culture amplified to the extreme than begin my sophomore year off with a spotless report card. 

I encourage you to focus on why you’re here, and what makes being here worth it. I’m sorry to say that if grades are your only answer, you are wasting a crucial period of growth (unless you’re pre-med or pre-law. I’m praying for y’all, truly, I am.) 

Better to say, I am not the best, and that’s okay. We’re all works in progress trying our best to do what we can. While I don’t get the best grades or say the most insightful things ever to come out of a college student’s mouth in precept, there is still value in my being here. There is value in being surrounded by those who are more than okay, and can help those around them learn. Your identity is so much more than your relative academic performance. You truly realize how amazing you are when you realize how you have succeeded, regardless of how that compares to anyone else.

So take it from me. It’s okay being okay. 

Kirsten Keels is a sophomore from West Fork, Ark. She can be reached at kkeels@princeton.edu.

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