BREAKING CONVENTIONAL RULES IN COLLEGE

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

Always aim for the highest

Chapter 1 (v.4) - One

Submitted: May 13, 2017

Reads: 126

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Submitted: May 13, 2017

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It took me nearly 15 months to learn my very first lesson in college, and I’m certainly sure it has been one of the most crucial lessons in life. This lesson simply changed my mentality and thought towards college as well as my conviction in life in general. It laid a foundation in which I used to seek my own American Dream. This very lesson made me a valedictorian of graduating 2017 engineering class from one of the most rigorous STEM programs in Southern California. 

 

But before I tell you this life lesson that I learned from a talented professor, I would like to tell you about my background and a conventional wisdom I used to believe in. So, please bear with me here. I was born and raised in a small town in Vietnam. In elementary school, my teacher frankly told my mother that her son was certainly not one of those smart and brilliant kids that were selected by the dean to an accelerated learning curriculum. In middle school, I tried numerous number of times through annual examinations and never made it to the school’s advanced program, which was designed for those who thrived through elementary years. In high school, I tried harder and became an A student, but I never finished a school year as the top student in my class, let alone the most stellar scholar of the school. After commencement ceremony of my K-12 education, I persuaded myself that it does not matter how hard I try, there is always someone else who is better because this world is just huge. Like an old saying: “there is always a higher mountain than the other.” And that conventional rule, which I never dared to question, was engraved on my mind. 

 

In fall of 2012, I continued my higher education upon arriving in the sunny Orange county of Southern California. Time flew and August of 2013 came, I was on a petitioning list on my first day of General Chemistry class. A short, middle-age, caucasian male walked into our big lecture hall. It was John, an extraordinary human being with an unshakable love for science and a truly passionate teacher who makes chemistry fun again. John’s class was probably the only motivation I had to get myself out of bed and drove to school. Since I enjoyed and learned from his class so much that I scored the second-highest on his first midterm, and I was beyond happy for two reasons. One, I had an A on that rough midterm; and two, the result reaffirmed and solidified the wisdom I held: “it is impossible to be the best and the brightest regardless how hard one tries.” Hence, I never questioned and wondered what I could have done to get a better score. That conventional wisdom literally hindered my brain from coming up with creative solutions and options to achieve something better; and as a result, I was a runner-up without being aware what I really missed to become a winner. 

 

Several days before John class’ second midterm, after answering all of the questions I had in preparation for the exam, John told me something that has completely changed my life ever since. The force from that one statement was so strong and powerful that it made me sleepless for nights before the exam. At the time, I wish someone had told me that in my early age, but it rather be late than never. John said to me:

 

“If I were you and about to take a test, I'd either take it and AIM FOR THE HIGHEST score possible, or else, I wouldn't take it.” 

 

This one single statement does not just challenge conventional wisdom, it shatters it into smithereens. How could one become the best if he or she never planned and attempted so? How one wishes to hit a jackpot if he or she never spends a dime buying a lottery ticket? There were roughly 140 students in John’s chemistry class; so statistically, every student in his class has an equal-opportunity chance of 1/140 (or 0.718%) to attain the highest score on every midterm if and only if he or she thinks about it, desires for it, plans for it, and truly attempts it. Most people, myself included at that time, already gave up because the odds are too high and they think the cards are stacked against them in every way. Thus, it is more comfortable and easier just to not think about it. As a result, as Robert Kiyosaki, a famous self-help author, puts it: “such thought just shuts down your brain.” Driving home, something occurred to me. I had just realized that I had been missing so many opportunities in life just because I either felt down and never questioned my failure or I convinced myself into believing that it’s arrogant to even think about becoming the best in everything I do. My hidden potential was not tapped because I never attempted to push myself beyond my limits.

 

I was still in doubt of myself, but it did not hurt to try what John advised anyway. So I drafted a strategy and it was simple enough: spending two days straight regurgitating all lecture slides John had taught; reworking every assigned homework and past midterm; rereading lab notes, and so on. During the review, I put myself in the position of a winner and I thought like a champion. In fact, I studied like there was no tomorrow as I did not have anything to lose. One day after our second midterm, while I was cleaning up lab equipment before taking off for the day, John walked in the room a hurry with a paper held on his hand. In seconds, he headed toward me, slammed the paper onto the lab counter next to me, and offered me a handshake. That paper was my graded second midterm with the highest score in the class. Then, I learned that it was all possible. That message delivered by John was so loud and clear that it widened my view, opened up my eyes, and broadened my perspectives. Since then, I walked into every college examination room with an “aim high” mentality regardless how easy or hard the course might be. As a reward as well as a reminder that conventional rules are breakable, I was honored as a departmental valedictorian of my graduating class upon my engineering graduation. 

 

As you might be pondering, what are practical benefits of being a valedictorian? Did my school offer a tuition refund for such achievement? Of course not. Did it help me get a job? Certainly not. For me, a valedictorian certificate did not matter as much as the process that I went through to earn it. The process taught me that conventional rules and wisdoms are destructible because such rules were established by those who go through life by making excuses after excuses. If it was not for John’s saying, I would not have learned the lesson, I would not have questioned the wisdom, I would not have persevered to push my limit, and I would not have known what it truly takes a person to become the greatest among his or her peers. It is not the valedictorian certificate that I’m proud of, it was my exponential personal growth day after day that I really concern about. As said, I was not a smart kid growing up, it was hard work, determination, and perseverance that made all the difference. "Always aim for the highest" is a simple thought, but you will be surprised of what you can excel in college and life in general. 


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