Consider this a bit of a warning, juxtaposed with a ‘those were the days’ kind of piece. Kids, in the summer of 2008 I began my first semester of college at St. John’s University. It was awesome. I lived in the residence halls my first year and a half, went to Europe for the length of my 4th semester and joined a fraternity the following year. I kept my grades in good shape until my tomfoolery got the best of me. My grades began to decline while the good times increased; with my eyes nowhere near the prize I inevitably lost sight of the main goal, which was graduating with the credentials and honors needed to make me stand out in the job market. Although I made up for lost time in epic fashion I still fell short of my ultimate goal and consider my time as an undergrad, albeit an experience of a lifetime, an academic failure, due to a lack effort and a skewed set of priorities which led to an imbalance of fun over work. Don’t get me wrong; I still graduated, I still had fun, still went to a great school and made lasting connections, had memorable experience and learned a lot. Some may call me a perfectionist, but I feel like I could have done better. This sentiment haunts me every time I apply for job, look at my degree or reminisce about the times where my pen and paper should have been busier than my party schedule.
I started out strong my first two years at St. John’s. After my first four semesters I had a 3.2 GPA and had a few academic organization memberships under my belt, not to mention the study abroad trip of a lifetime which sent me to three different European cities over a span of four months. The following year, my junior year I joined a fraternity on campus, Phi Iota Alpha Fraternity, Inc. for all the right reasons (no sarcasm intended). I learned about my culture and historical background on an unprecedented scale and felt a new sense of pride in my Puerto Rican roots. The catch, however was that once I finished my pledging process I stopped caring about my grades for that semester, the cardinal sin of being a neophyte, a.k.a. a new member of a fraternity or sorority. As my ‘neo summer’ began, my stellar academic record’s golden age was coming to an end, and little did I know would enter a dark age which took several semesters, summer courses and CLEP exams to correct.
In the Spring of 2011 I let procrastination spill over into finals’ week, which is like a soldier going into battle unarmed. I was on an academic suicide mission all due to my own thirst for good times via wild parties, a thirst all fueled by my irresponsibility. I failed three courses in the Spring of 2011, bringing my GPA down to a 2.8. I was devastated and disappointed in myself. I could have passed every course I had failed with a C at the very least. I knew I was harder working and more intelligent than to have three Fs show up on my grade report, but then again “Your grades are not given, they are earned,” said every teacher ever. I had never failed a course before in my life.
The following semester the pressure was on the redeem myself. It was my senior year, I was behind in credits and I was in danger of losing my partial scholarship. I balked epically at the chance, but had just enough success to barely keep me going.
I got caught up in the party life, this time worse than before. I was Jay Gatsby of St. John’s, focused on the vanity and the craziness that would not matter after I was finished with my undergraduate career. My grades, however, mattered very much and were declining at an ever more rapid rate. I passed 9 credits worth of CLEP exams to make up for the three classes I had failed the previous semester. The catch (there’s always a catch) was that I had to withdraw from all of my classes in order to not completely ruin my GPA, except for one class that I had not fell completely behind in.
The stage was set in what I hoped would still be my last semester as a Johnnie before I graduated. After two semesters of crazy nights and horrible grades I took it upon myself to try and right my wrongs. I took on 27 credits in one semester. That’s right, 27. I took 6 classes, amounting to 18 credits, plus 9 credits of CLEP exams. I was not easy and although I tried I fell slightly short, failing a class and earning 24 credits instead. I toned down the good times in West Egg, although my shenanigan-ridden shindigs still went on from time to time. I had 4 credits left before I graduated, enough to be able to walk across the stage with my class at the May 2012 commencement.
I felt like I didn’t deserve it. Any of it. All the praise I got that day, my family coming out to see me on campus, my sophomore and junior friends hugging me and saying “Congratulations!!” felt like a total sham. Call me a perfectionist, but I felt like my commencement was ruined by no one else but the man in the mirror. I was determined to make that change and finish up strong.
The following semester I registered late and had no choice but to take 2 classes with professors that I was not on very good terms with; one professor I had not worked meshed well with and would often skip class and come in unprepared during my Spring 2011 semester, and the other professor was the only professor whose class I had failed during my 27 credit crusade. I had to juggle morning classes 3 times a week in Queens, a part-time job at Union Square in Manhattan and being part of a band complete with gigs all over the city, all the while living at the very top of The Bronx.
It was the best semester I ever had, save for my time Europe. I came into the Fall 2012 semester deeply embarrassed that I was what the kids nowadays call a ‘super senior.’ I was surprised to find out that many 2012ers like myself had gone the ‘whole nine,’ semester-wise and I was not alone in my plight to finish a bit past the 4 year expectation. I loved my classes. I studied diligently and really immersed myself in my coursework. I finished my final semester with an A- and a B+, the latter grade coming from the class I had failed the semester before.
I am now proud to say that I officially graduated with the class of January 2013. It wasn’t easy and wasn’t perfect, but I did what I had to do and got the job done.
A few lessons can be learned from my experience. I had many moments of self reflection, challenges galore as well as good times, ultimately forming a novel’s worth of memories and experiences to cherish. Here are some lessons that I learned in college, in a few short phrases:
“All work and no play make Jack dull boy, but no work and all play might make Jack fail out of school.”
“Life is what you make it; you get out what you put in.”
“Balance is the key to life.”
And my personal favorite:
“Redemption is sweet.” – RSM