Jan. 29, 2014
I failed Math 111 my first semester at MSU. The course numbers are different now, but back then it was a pre-calculus class. And I failed—all five credits. A big fat 0.0. I didn’t even need the class for my major but a counselor convinced me I had done well on placement tests and it would “be good for my studies.”
I’m not proud of it by any means, but I own it. It was mine and mine alone and it certainly didn’t mean I was overall a failure. The rest of my semester was great. I got a 4.0 in my ATL 123 course, a 3.5 in my intro to psychology and a 3.5 in a chemistry course (thanks to my high school AP chem class, which I passed, though I failed the final exam).
I had never failed a class before. I was a pretty good student, though I definitely had a tougher time with math and science. All semester long I kept thinking it would get better and I would eventually pass. I couldn’t imagine not passing. So, I buckled down and tried to study as much as I could. Even going into the final, I thought I could squeak by. (Had I been a better math student, I would have figured out there was no way I was going to pass no matter my final exam grade).
I was young and naïve and not very smart about that class. I didn’t go looking for extra help. I didn’t drop the class when it became clear I was in over my head. I plodded along, making myself crazy, and failed nonetheless.
But I wasn’t a failure. I’d like to consider myself pretty successful. One failure didn’t define my future or me. Sure, it wasn’t easy overcoming what it did to my GPA, but it didn’t mean I couldn’t earn my college degree. And I’ve never found an employer who wouldn’t hire me because of it. I have a ton of other skills to offer the world and I think I’ve used them wisely. And that failure taught me to speak up and ask for help when I need it. I never failed another course.
If I was a student now, I’d know where to go for help. MSU runs the Math Learning Center where students can get help with their classes. Riley Marshall, an MSU senior and tutor in the center, says that with the right guidance, everyone can do well at math. Oh, if only there had been a Riley in my life back when I was a freshman. (There probably was, I was just too stubborn to go find one). Read the STUDENT VIEW: Before it’s Too Late, to learn more about Riley and the center.
At the time I was staring that grade in the face, it felt a little like the end of the world. How would I explain it to my parents? My friends? Myself? How would I ever bring my GPA back up? Looking back, it was a blip in my life, but in the moment it was huge.
It’s important that we realize that life is not without failures. Sometimes, they make way for better things. I didn’t get the first job I interviewed for at MSU—but the one I did get was an even better fit for me.
Throughout history, mistakes have lead to some pretty important discoveries—penicillin, pacemakers, safety glass and the very important chocolate chip cookie.
The important thing about failures is that we learn from them and get up and keep going. All good Spartans carry on and move forward.
Rachel Minkin, information literacy librarian, who leads information literacy sessions for first-year students, has an interesting take on failure and how we cope with it. Read her FACULTY VOICE: Cat Urine and Setbacks.
Winston Churchill said, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”
I like to think that I have that courage. I think all Spartans do.
Photo of students studying in the lounge of Phillips Residence Hall by Derrick L. Turner