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Strip for 6/22/2002  
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This isn't quite what happened at convocation on Saturday, but hey, this is a comic strip. I admit it, I'm a little petty. I think it's a problem that affects us all. I warn you, this is a pretty petty blurb.

The reading of awards on Saturday reminded me of Awards Day in grade school. We'd all gather and see who got 1st Academic, 2nd Academic, and then the Miss Congeniality Awards: the 5 Star Awards. My school was really competitive. For example, they'd read the honor roll every grading period, but they wouldn't read it in alphabetical order. It was done in reverse numerical order, so the last person out was the highest in the class. They don't do that anymore, probably due to some kid breaking down and crying at least once a year when the pressure got too high.

We'd also race through tests. Well, the guys would. Getting the test in first with a slightly lower score was somehow more worthy of respect than handing it in seventh and getting it perfect. It was quite a complicated calculus; rather impressive for fifth graders. It was of our opinion that, sure, we could all be perfect, given enough time.

I never was at the very top of my class, although due to the looming shadow of my big brother's passing through the school, I was expected to be. I was usually ranked 3rd or 4th (I'll get you, 2nd Academic, just you wait, was my burning thought throughout 4th and 5th grade) but everyone made excuses for me like my penmanship score was holding me back (being left handed and not very patient, I scrawl. Still do). But really, the people up there were those who worked to be up there. And since it was generally known that I didn't work very hard, I got the reputation as one of those genius slackers.

Middle school was better, since we were a bit more split up into homerooms and different classes throughout the day. It's a lot harder to compete when you can't see everyone else's playing field every day.

In high school, I never made it out into the top 5. Again, everyone's excuse for me was that I was taking classes a year ahead of everyone. But I knew that if I'd qualified to skip, I should also be good enough to excel, right? Again, the rep spread. Rick tells me that freshman year, I'd be whispered about in the library. "There's a kid taking Chemistry instead of Biology! He's also taking sophomore English!" People who met me would ask if I'd be graduating early.

The first B I ever received stung hard. I was a sophomore. The class was AP US History. For once I had to study more than a night before the test. I pulled the grade up by the end of the year, but I only got a 4 on the test, while the other people my age taking it got 5's.

I became more motivated by teacher. I did get a 5 in AP Bio and I was the only sophomore taking it. Plus, I think the teacher hated me, so that motivated me to do well. I had one teacher who told the class that Marquette boys need to know where they stand on the ladder, any ladder. They need to know who is below them and who is above. She taught AP Euro and taught it hard. I worked hard not to make good grades but because I didn't want to disappoint her.

Somewhere along the line, however, I lost my drive to be number one in the class, since getting that B took it out of reach. I'd do my homework on the floor of my room. No desk. My mom would yell, but my dad said, "Hey, as long as he's doing well." And I was. I aced my SAT (my mom was again upset because I hadn't done very many practice tests, I'd forgotten to send in my registration so I had to take it senior year in the fall, and on the day of the test, I ran out the door late, with a handful of golf pencils in my hand). But whatever drive I had to be the best in school had slipped out the back. I graduated 8th or 9th in my class and felt a slight twinge of "That could've been me" during the valedictory speech.

Freshman year of college, I again had the air of someone who does pretty well without trying too hard. I came in with an absurd amount of credits from AP work and from some Marquette U classes. (People who knew would ask if I'd be graduating early). When other people asked me to go study at the library, I'd tell them I was proud to be able to count the number of times I'd been there on my hand. I wasn't the most amazing computer scientist, but I knew enough to get by (although the first assignment I ever had I was totally lost on because I hadn't gotten the book yet). I helped people with homework then they asked. My friend Ricky said that before he knew me in person, he knew my homework. College really kills that success drive. I mean, there's no valedictorian. Grades are a poor indication of how much you really know, since everyone takes a different mix of classes. Plus, there's the curve. I never even though about getting perfects anymore. I just needed to be on top of enough people in the ladder to make a cut. I coasted along pretty well until junior year when I realized that completing my dual degree would require me to take full loads of engineering classes all three quarters.

And so I started working. I'd be up late at night working on code, or solid state homework. I'd be in the lab, pecking away at an assignment along with everyone else. I wasn't working to be number one. I was studying because I wouldn't know the material otherwise. Or, I was coding because I was part of a project group that needed my piece. I survived, and amazingly, my GPA was not too adversely affected.

I didn't know I'd gotten cum laude until I looked in the program on Friday. I am prouder of it because I didn't expect to get it. But it's not because I need to know that I'm in the top 20% of my major. I don't care how many people are below me on the ladder. I'm proud because I realized on Saturday that this was an award that was four years in the making, not something I just got at the last second.

I worry that people stopped reading up at the top, thinking that this was just me tooting my own horn. If you made it this far, thanks.


PS. Due to Sil not having time to do the ending strips, you readers get stick figure Scrubs for another month or so! Maybe more. Excited? I am. This give me more time to work on my other ventures...