Archive for October, 2011

I lost my 4.0 to an old German professor at UMBC last semester. I never even saw it coming. The semester started off as well as any other. My classes seemed challenging, but manageable at first: Here’s how things looked

Python Programming – Easy programming class. One of those classes you enjoy because you’ve already learned half the content before. I even skipped a few classes I knew I wouldn’t be losing out from with no problems.

Human Geography – Way too much material tested on for a low-level elective course. If you missed a single class, you’d be a goner come test-time. Good luck getting somebody to send you their notes in a class of 150. Writing projects were extremely tedious and grading harsh, but I can deal with time-consuming work. Swung out a low A after the curve.

Honors 200 – An honors seminar class on Race, Religion, and Gender. Constant heavy reading and an even heavier liberal bent (my professor was an old hippie type who described himself as a radical Marxist). Writing intensive course with 450 word essays on the long readings every week, plus a 12-15 page research paper at the end. Yet another time-consuming course, but I don’t mind writing too much, so I pulled out an A in the end.

Linear Algebra – Taught by an old German man named Florien who had a thick accent and an affinity for tangents about history. He would scribble theorems on the board and work out whole problems without turning around to face the class. For all 5 of my math courses at Harford Community College, Trigonometry through Calculus II, I had a wonderful professor named Chris. He explained every topic thoroughly and clearly. Chris is the kind of professor who makes you feel as if, by asking him a question or going to him for help outside of class, you’re making his day instead of imposing on his busy schedule. Because of Chris, I finally felt I was good at math, though still a little slower than most of my classmates. His German UMBC counterpart, however, was quite the contrary. He would show up five to fifteen minutes late to class every day and lecture unintelligibly. More than half the class never showed up or had dropped it a few weeks in. Of those remaining, half of them left once they turned in their homework and the professor turned around to absorb himself in the blackboard. An originally maxed-out room of 70+ people shrank to less than 20 survivors most days. I would read the book and bust my butt on the homeworks. I found a YouTube Channel with someone who actually taught Linear Algebra well and watched for hours to prepare for exams. But to no avail: My first exam was a 57, and the other two weren’t any better. Thanks to my homework grades and his course grading scale of 60+ as a C, I barely managed to balance out to a C overall in the class. Not the end of the world, right?

It was for me. Upon receiving my first exam grade of 57, my heart sank. I had never gotten a grade that low on any important test in college up to this point. For me, I took pride in the fact that my test scores were consistently in the A and B range, and congratulated myself on my President’s List letters. I enjoyed making subtle references to the fact that my tuition at Harford was covered by a writing scholarship and that I had never gotten anything besides an A in two years of college. I was at the pinnacle of my academic pride, and I’m so thankful God found a way to push me off.

See, when I got that grade back, I began despairing. What’s going to happen to my scholarship opportunities? What if I completely fail the course? What if this ends up setting me back in my graduation trajectory? What’s going to happen to my GPA? How are employers going to look at my GPA? My thoughts deteriorated from a concern over one class grade to an overall despairing outlook on my life and future. The immediate course of events was: Bad grade on exam -> Doubt God’s faithfulness.

In that moment, I could not see that God would allow a C to crush my self-reliance for a reason. Looking back now, I would have enjoyed crushing me because I now see how absorbed I was in my own abilities and grades.

But it’s as if God was saying, “Steve, I’m going to strip you of your 4.0 so you can see that your foundation is not in a university. I’m refining you by fire, and right now a lot of arrogance and independence is being burned up in the process. The straw of intelligence and performance you were building your house of hope on is being swept away by the storm. You need to place your hope and trust for the future entirely in me, not your grades, brains, work ethic, relationships, or anything else.

So now, I am completely failing my Data Structures class this semester and am going to have to retake it next, but it’s not the end of my world. I’m learning that UMBC is not Harford, and some classes are simply over my head. I’ve worked as hard as I can to succeed, but am failing. For a couple of weeks, my failing grade in that class began to sank me into a depression, even deeper than last semester.. But now I am being reminded that God did not disappear when I got a C. His faithfulness has never been blighted and his plans have never been thwarted by me or my grades.

As I drop the class and a ‘W’ shows up on my transcript, I will be at peace. I say this not to belittle the cost of tuition (which my parents so generously pay) or the importance of graduating ASAP. Even now, I continue to attend the lectures and work on the assignments to learn for next semester. But I do so with a heart at peace, resting in a comfort-giving God who cares more about my heart than my GPA.

“Those who know your name will trust in you, for you, LORD, have never forsaken those who seek you.” -Psalm 9:10