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January 22, 2001

Mother and Father do know best

Stephanie Sonnenfeld, is associate editor/designer
of the
Emory Report.

Remember the student in your class who asked for extra-extra credit assignments, stressed over open-book pop quizzes and wanted a 100 instead of a 99.5 on book reports? I do, because I was that student.

That student was probably the butt of a lot of your jokes and probably really, really annoyed you.
I don’t blame you for laughing. Looking back on my past behavior, I laugh at myself, too. During my academic career, I was a high-stress student and just too nervewrecking to even be around.

My parents, Carol and Ed, were always telling me to calm down and take everything in stride. They couldn’t get over how obsessive-compulsive I was about my grades. When I had a B in Geometry, I put myself on a self-imposed restriction. No phone, no TV. Ok, so the phone moratorium lasted about an hour. I was a 16-year-old girl— What did you expect?

I know my parents thought I was crazy. They told me so and then laughed. Then they dispensed with the advice.

Carol, the educator, said that teachers are human and generally pretty patient people; they accept mistakes and know that students aren’t expected to be perfect. Education is supposed to be enjoyed, not dreaded, she said. Of course, I didn't believe her.

Ed, a former teacher, agreed with Mom and said that as a student, you have a level of responsibility to meet. You have to hold up your end of the bargain and realize that it is your job to be a student, he would say. Do the best job you can, and you'll be rewarded in the long run. Yeah, whatever. It had been 20-plus years since he'd been in school, and even then, he had some issues with passing Spanish in high school and in college. I quickly disregarded his advice.

I’ve had a few years to step back and reflect on my academic past, and yes, I now see exactly what Carol and Ed were saying. Better yet, I can actually can appreciate it. During high school and a large part of college, I was so worn out from constantly trying to achieve what I deemed “perfection,” that I really missed out on the whole point of education: to simply learn, and to enjoy doing it.

While in school, I did learn a lot, but in many cases, I learned things just to get a good grade. That’s not the purpose of it at all. I didn’t realize that I didn’t have to be an expert in every field. I didn’t see that I needed to focus on my talents and interests and to build my education around those attributes instead of striving for the honor roll every semester.

I eventually figured everything out, but it was almost too late. My senior year of college, I learned to have fun with school and in my role as a student. And I eventually realized just how right my parents’ advice was. (But, of course, I haven’t told told them that yet.)

Starting this semester, I get to actually use their handy advice once again, and I'm definitely going to follow it word for word—with a few minor additions. If all goes as planned, I’ll be taking my first class as an Emory student (in special standing) this semester, complete with required textbooks, no. 2 pencils and highlighters, thanks to the Courtesy Scholarship program.

I’m hoping to eventually pursue my master’s degree in educational studies, and I am in the application process right now. I’m prepping to take the dreaded Graduate Record Exam (GRE) soon and have spent the last few weeks reviewing everything I spent almost 20 years learning.

My class meets for the first time this week, and I've been getting ready, buying textbooks (not as exciting when you, not your parents, are buying them) and making a game-plan of sorts for my upcoming semester. As much as I’m excited about being a student again, I’m also pretty nervous.

But I think everything will work out fine if I follow two things: my parents’ advice and a list of reminders I’ve created for myself, which I think are pretty much applicable to my life as a returning student and as a person. They are as follows:

Always take notes. Be they mental or in a notebook, taking notes can only stand to benefit you. Sure, some of the stuff you may already know or it could be entirely useless but it never hurts to simply pay attention to what someone else is saying. Documenting the information you know you’ll see again or put to use is the best thing you can do.

Don’t wait to the last minute. We’ve all been guilty of this—whether it be sending a bill in late to Georgia Power or going to the mall to do Christmas shopping on Dec. 24—but it really does no good. You stress out for no reason and hence your work or task is invariably flawed.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. This is self-explanatory, though it took me a while to figure it out (about 10 years).

Follow directions. Most of my questions are due to the fact that I haven’t read all of the instructions. It’s also the reason I had a lot of parts left over when I installed my own mini-blinds, but that’s another issue entirely.

Don’t ever give up. If you give up, you’ll never know what you’re missing. Just because it didn’t happen the first or fifth time doesn’t mean it’s never going to happen. Don’t be discouraged by rejection. There are far other more taxing issues to tolerate in life than failing or not getting what you want. It never hurts to try again. (Remind me of this after I take the GRE!)

I never used to put a lot of stock in the old saying, “If I knew then what I know now,” but now it’s become my mantra of sorts. Over the next semester, I’ll be one of the lucky ones to see if that thought holds some validity.


Back to Emory Report Jan. 22, 2001