The first semester of my freshmen year at Duke University, I took Earth and Ocean Sciences 101, titled “The Dynamic Earth.” This class covered the fundamental concepts of geology, ecology, oceanography, and such. I can’t tell you much to be honest, as I showed up to only half the lectures. The times I actually did bother to show up, I ended up talking to my friends or texting away on my phone.
Now, I want you to know that this class is also popularly referred to as “Rocks for Jocks,” known as a class taken by the athletes at Duke University who seek easy classes to fulfill their graduation requirements. Its counterpart—EOS 102: The Dynamic Oceans, is referred to as “Waves for Babes.”
On my very first day at Duke University, I walked into this class with an air of nonchalant confidence: no laptop, no notebook, no writing utensil. I texted my two friends the entire lecture, who were actually sitting right next to me. Besides, the content was simple enough; so simple that the professor had actually made a point to explain to us that “Continental Drift is the drifting of continents.”
Soon enough, the students began to ask questions. Something about the formation of sedimentary layers. Something about glacial movements and global warming. Something about radioactive dating and its uses in nuclear technology. Some nerd even went ahead to ask about neutrinos and astrophysics.
In other words, something nerdy about rocks.
My friends and I groaned in frustration.
After class, many students stayed to ask the professor further questions, who answered them with seasoned grace mixed with a hint of poorly hidden passion. My friends and I, on the other hand, were one of the first to leave the classroom. Our classes were over for the day, and we were about to get prepared to go bar hopping (on a Wednesday night). On the way back to our dorms, we complained about the nerdy tryhards, and laughed as we cracked jokes about them.
Oh, I should probably also mention that I received a final grade of C+ in “Rocks for Jocks.”
Even after two extra credit assignments.
I can place all the blame I want on the rising number of tryhard nerds who destroyed the curve and encouraged the professor to make the subject material more challenging. At the end of the day, however, I can only blame myself. Not only was I at fault for my complete lack of academic dedication, I doomed myself to failure from the start with the hubris created by my intellectual apathy.
To be honest, I came from a not-so-competitive high school where I was never motivated to work very hard at all, whatsoever. I was accepted to Duke University with a C and two B’s on my transcript. Even with my less-than-stellar grades, I graduated with the third highest GPA in my class—thanks to weighted art classes and immoral means of test-taking. At college, however, I was surrounded by peers who were used to writing 5000 word research papers and getting at the throats of their fellow students in order to achieve a single extra point on a curved exam.
There are two sides to this story. On one hand, our educational system has developed into a machine in which students prioritize grades over education. Competition tears us away from one another, forcing us into a system of solidary self-exclusion which prohibits the wonderful academic as well as pragmatic merits of collaboration and teamwork.
On the other hand, we have become so desensitized to the importance of intellectual curiosity that we fear the reputation of studying and working hard. Even within the progressive world we inhabit today, our children are encouraged to associate academic diligence with social ineptitude. The incredible popularity of this inflammatory anti-Ivy article highlights how truly ignorant and fearful we are of higher education.
Because at the end of the day, who am I to judge? I am the ratchet nobody who was barely accepted to Duke University, who received a C+ in the arguably easiest class offered by the entire school. I was surrounded by math prodigies who have made significant impacts on global society, social rights activists who have paved a bright path for LGBT youth, and undeniable geniuses who have researched the potential cure for cancer.
Be nice to nerds not because they’ll be your bosses in the future, but because they are people in and of themselves who deserve just as much respect as anyone else.