I’ve been shocked and saddened by the number of student suicide stories I’ve read in the news over the past few years, almost all from big name schools like Penn and Cornell. I simply could not fathom how a young person with every opportunity in the world, a soon to be Ivy League graduate, could just end their life. But then I thought back to my own 4 years at Penn, and suddenly it didn’t seem all that crazy to me that a 19 year old could jump off the roof of a parking lot.
Kids who end up at Ivy Leagues have been told their entire life that their grades are the most important thing in the world. It’s how they are going to get into college, it’s how they are going to land that internship at Goldman Sachs, and it’s how they are going to end up with a full time job offer at Black Rock. They are constantly told that they are smarter than everyone else, and if they would just put in that extra 10%, they will be at the top of their class. Valedictorian. Magna Cum Laude.
High school is easy though. High school is a mix of all sorts of kids. The jocks that are going to Kentucky on a full ride. The pot heads that will either still be in the same town 30 years from now dealing, or the ones that end up as NASA rocket scientists. The kids with learning disabilities that can’t string together a sentence. The ones from underprivileged homes who don’t have anyone to check if they’ve bothered doing their homework. In that little pond of 200, the “smart” and motivated kids are the big fish. Being #1 is a cake walk.
I was one of those kids.
Then you get to college and shit gets real. Every single one of the 2000 kids in each class at Penn was at the top of his or her grade in high school. They were all told that they were the smartest kids in class. They were all valedictorians. Heck, some were even prom king and queen. Now you’re just a little fish in a big pond, and if you continue to believe that your performance in school is going to dictate the rest of your life, that first C that you get in Calc 101 is going to be a devastating blow.
It took me 2 months at Penn to realize that I wasn’t cut from the same cloth as the rest of my classmates. I had faked it till I made it, and here I was on an Ivy League campus, not even close to being ready to deal with the sudden change in the level of the average IQ around me. Classes were hard, and my peers studied harder. Asking a question in class made you look stupid. Intro to Computer Science was meant for people who had been coding since they were 5 years old it seemed. I thought I was going to play on the basketball team because I was captain of my high school in India. Turns out we had a couple of guys on the team that had a chance of playing in the NBA. Every single thing I excelled at in high school – turned out I sucked at it compared to everyone else on campus. It’s an overwhelming feeling of defeat that leaves you with not many choices. You can either pack it up and go home, transfer to a less competitive school, or apparently, end your life, which seems like the less embarrassing option.
My hope is that everyone reading this will realize that there is another option, which is not giving a shit, and realizing that there is a lot more to life than your academic performance. What Penn and every other Ivy League don’t teach you, is that there are plenty of other ways to be successful in life, none of which involve your GPA. And while I’ve given this speech multiple times, today I wan’t to prove to everyone, how little your grades matter.
Which is why, I’m doing the thing that every Ivy League student will shit their bed thinking about. I’m making my transcript available publicly at the bottom of this post. My parents haven’t even seen this before (though they’ve asked several times). You can see first hand, how poorly I did in school, and how little it mattered. I finished Penn, started a technology company, employ 75 people in the most amazing city in the world, do something I love and that I’m good at every day, and not one person in the past 5 years has asked me how I did at Penn. And if they did, I’d be the first person to say “I barely graduated”.
Life is a little too short to be spent focussing on the things that suck. No matter how shitty you’re doing in school, I promise you, there is something that you are great at out there that will allow you to be successful. Not just as a professional, but as a human being. And every time you forget that, take a look at my transcript and realize that you’re already doing better than I am. And if you’re still not convinced, contact me at vbk at alumni dot upenn dot edu and I promise that I’ll change your mind, or give you that summer internship that Goldman Sachs turned you down for.