I feel like I have been chasing paper my entire life. No, I am not referring to money. The paper I have been chasing is academic.
Ever since I was a little girl, my parents stressed the importance of education. And with my mom being a teacher, I could certainly understand why. Dad would tell me every day before he left for work that “Knowledge is power.” I foolishly believed him.
I would definitely say that I was a prisoner of school. My entire world revolved around getting good grades. Not that I didn’t have any incentives. I was one of the spoiled children that was rewarded with money for a good report card. I also enjoyed making my parents proud.
Being known as one of the “smart kids” was definitely a plus. I loved sharing my knowledge with my fellow classmates. As silly as it sounds, I wanted them to succeed, too. This is not to say that I never struggled with any of my subjects. Geometry was my downfall. My brain just does not work that way.
Then the awards slowly started to roll in. It all started back in the third grade. We were required to write an original short story. The stories were not only going to be graded, but judged. The winning story (one from each of the third grade classes) would receive the Young Author Award. At that age, I didn’t care about awards. I just loved to tell stories and draw (albeit very poorly).
When the teacher stood up at the front of the class and announced that I had won, I felt….amazing! I was like a five year old on a sugar rush. I wanted to jump up and down, run through the halls, shout at the top of my lungs. You get the picture. My parents were blown away. I got to attend a special conference and was even given a trophy.
That was just the beginning. In sixth grade, we were made to write another such short story. I was blessed enough to win another Young Author Award. Later that year, we all had to write an essay describing what we learned in the D.A.R.E. program and how it had affected our lives. The night of our D.A.R.E. graduation, we were seated in the auditorium. The essay winners were to be announced. Again, I didn’t think I had a chance. I had just written from my heart and expected nothing in return. “And from class 5-1….Lauren Kramer!” My friends cheered as I made my way up to the podium. I was given a medal (much like that in the Olympics) and made to read my essay out loud to the family filled audience.
During my eighth grade graduation ceremony, I was awarded two plaques: one for Outstanding Spelling Student and another for Outstanding Academic Achievement. In high school, we are required to meet with a counselor to “determine our path in life.” I knew right away that I wanted to be a writer of some kind. The counselor gushed over my grades and promised that I would achieve big things.
With my running shoes on, I began to chase paper for a whole new reason: My future. I made the Honor Roll every year. I was inducted into the National Honor Society as well as the National Thespian Society (I play a mean Kanga in “House at Pooh Corner”). I was in Advanced Placement English all four year and Advanced Placement History for one. The courses count as college credit.
I was completely shocked when I actually earned a certificate for how well I scored in the history portion of the Illinois Prairie State Exam. I have always hated standardized tests. They made me extremely nervous. During my senior year, I earned another certificate for being involved in the Mentor program. Can you believe that my mentee didn’t know what a Smurf was? I feel old!
My parents and high school counselor kept praising me. The world was to be my oyster. Just like Barbie, I could be whatever I wanted to be. But, not yet. There was more paper to chase!
The keys to my happily ever after future were to come in the form of college degrees. I was blessed again to receive two scholarships from my high school. I quickly pounded the pavement towards my Associate in Arts degree. I was on the Dean’s List every semester. My most exciting moment was being inducted into Phi Theta Kappa. This is the honor society where my parents met, so it had more than just an academic meaning for me.
With degree in hand, I didn’t pause or slow down. The end was in sight. Time to finish up my academic career with a Bachelor’s degree. Mass communications-print journalism was my chosen path of study. I loved being able to study what I was passionate about. I was getting to hone my craft every day.
My mind was completely blown when one of my teachers informed me that I had won the St. Louis Post Dispatch Outstanding Journalism Student Award. This felt like a momentous achievement. It is not easy to stand out in a university that sees thousands of students walk through its hallowed halls. I also felt like it was a sign that I was doing what I was supposed to be doing with my life. While I love writing, if I stink at it, I would want someone to tell me. I cannot imagine wasting my time and energy on something that I don’t even have hope of improving on.
Later in the year, I was inducted into Phi Kappa Phi. All inductees were informed that less than 1% of students receive this honor. I was certainly humbled. Before graduation, I was inducted into the National Scholars Honor Society. The stars were aligning!
With my Bachelor’s degree in hand, I had one more paper to conquer: the elusive resume. How do a few pieces of paper sum up your entire life? And I have never been comfortable with “selling” myself.
I have been very fortunate to have continuous employment. But, for some reason, I have had the misfortune of having terrible bosses. Even more frustrating is the fact that I cannot seem to ever move up within the same company.
I recently applied for a position within my current place of employment. The requirements called for a Bachelor’s degree, Master’s preferred. Foolishly, I believed that I would at least be granted an interview. I had, after all, performed the very function that the job required while working in a previous position at the very same company. I soon found out that the interviews had already been scheduled.
One of my co-workers told me that a Master’s degree is the new Bachelor’s. I greatly resent this. I followed the path the my parents and school counselors had instructed me to. I excelled in my academics, earning just about every honor and accolade that I could.
In the end, these “honors” are nothing more than useless pieces of paper that hang on the wall of my study. They have not helped me attain my dream job or even progress slowly up the corporate ladder.
And I have NO desire to go back to school. I do not miss writing endless papers and studying for hours. Nor do I miss waking up in the middle of the night worrying about a test the following day. I would rather spend my “spare” time with my husband and fur babies.
Essentially, I feel as if I have been lied to. Academic achievement is no guarantee for a successful career. Parents and academia staff need to continue to encourage students to reach for excellence while keeping their feet on the ground.