I Survived Fall Semester 2020
A persuasive letter to my Modern Literary Masterpieces professor on why I deserve an A, for everyone who endured this year
When in the midst of sorrow
you can’t see up when looking down
A brighter day tomorrow will bring
You hear the voice of reason
telling you this cant never be done
No matter how hard reality seems
Just hold on to your dreams
(Sounds of Blackness, 1991)
Certain songs possess a sort of magic that allows them to say in a few minutes, what entire nations have been aching to hear vocalized so tenderly and perfectly, for moths, or years, or centuries. This song has that magic. If a gifted writer came into possession of every diary in the Untied States written this year, I imagine that the sum of all their parts would be this song, and that whatever that writer created would be its sister. It is a reminder to “be optimistic,” while acknowledging the very real strife this universe serves people, and the valid sorrow it generates. At the turn of the new year, and the end of a semester, this song is more relevant than ever. I have sat up many nights grueling over schoolwork, often from this class, wondering how I was going to take care of my siblings, and afford school, and handle troubled relationships, and manage my mental health, etc. To parrot the lyrics of “Be Optimistic,” I felt it (all of this) could never be done. Regardless of that, while this semester was certainly unique, it is not the worst I have been through. It was however the most academically draining and challenging semester I have ever experienced, and English 215 is the most difficult class I have ever taken. It has challenged me to attach a ferocity to my studies that I have never, and in all honesty, have never been asked to before; my performance has not been perfect, but I stepped up to the plate after a few wake-up calls. I have decided to use Association, (which I have already utilized), Humor, Analogy, and Evidence of my deservedness, like grades and participation as persuasive techniques to convince you of my thesis: I have proven and further developed my abilities to endure, to be creative, intellectual, thoughtful, tedious, and receptive, even in the midst of sorrow. I have continuously absorbed knowledge from you, my peers, and my own personal work, and have put it into practice in assignments and during class; for these reasons and more, I deserve an A.
I began this semester with a positive if naïve perception of how it would pan out. I am akin to many graduated Highschool students who took honors English and started fancying themselves Toni Morison’s successor, and I can admit that. It took this class for me to realize how mediocre that attitude made me; only mediocre students think they are the best. Luckily, I have grown more academically in the last 3 months than I have the rest of my college career.
I was born into a martial arts family. Being the only little girl in a tribe of men and teens twice my size, it was imperative that I was as skilled and spirited as they were. In certain Japanese forms including the one I study, Shotokan karate, when a teacher tells a student to perform a task she does not reply “yes sir” or “I understand” she replies “oss” which means “I Will Endure.” If sensei says to drop and give him 50 after a 3 hour work out, the student replies “oss.” I sensei says hold a squat for 5 minutes straight, the students say ‘oss,” and so on. I trained so much when I was younger that I developed a habit for using the word at inappropriate times. I also use it deliberately when I need an extra boost of strength and reassurance until this day, I have mumbled it to myself many times during your class.
The best thing about being an athlete is that the more pain one goes through, the more one improves. At a good dojo, you can be on the 200th sit up, and someone will be screaming in your ear to makes the 201st the best yet. To not collapse on the floor, but to stand up at attention, to crawl to a knee if that is all you can accomplish. To always end with dignity. A good college class is similar. Its environment, students, and teachers can achieve an effect on someone similar to that of a room full of adrenaline-high karate junkies. I got that vibe from your class. English 215 is an environment where students only progress once they have shown the ability to swallow pride, to look stupid, to be vulnerable, and then to grow. After some reflection I realized that it’s a lot like my old gym. Three of the most important attributes in karate are resilience, perseverance, and humility, this class has put me on track to master those, and I think I have shown clear improvements in all three. English 215 was sweat inducing, but I endured.
My first grade in this class was an A. It was for an in-class assignment about if us students believed there were masterpieces created during our generations. I have perfect attendance, participate in each class, and engage in lively and opinionated conversation with my peers. I have studied texts with the intention of understanding and dissecting them, not with the intent of regurgitating widely accepted perceptions of what a poem or a passage means. My drive to find meaning has led me to express unpopular takes at times, which none the less follow and have substance in both written assignments and during class. My grades have improved substantially and steadily, the first paper grade I received was 83% and the last was 100%. I was on a zoom call for my art class when I received that grade, I turned the camera off, because I was writhing with joy, and went to show my mother, who now knows you by name. She also knows when I have just left your class by the way I enter her bedroom, laughing hysterically or shaking my head at 1 o-clock in the afternoon. I usually reply “thank you” to your emails, but I did not that time. The reason why is that I wrote a draft which read “I’ve succeeded at life” and then chose against sending.
I am a strange perfectionist, I have always wanted to be the best, but for all the wrong reasons. In the past, I was praised by adults for performances that to them, were good, but were nowhere near as great as I was capable of, and I knew it. For a long time, I allowed my potential to be determined by what was good enough to impress other people. I recognize that I entered this class still thinking that way. It quickly became apparent that half-assed attempts, even if technically competent, would not suffice this go around. Being in this class never allowed me to be “good enough,” this class forced me to be exceptional, or at least as close to it as possible.
I mentioned in the introduction that this semester was not the worst I have been through, last semester was. I struggled with whether to include some of that story here, because I do not want to appear to be trying to buy sympathy. However, I believe I have learned your personality enough to know that I could not do that even if it was my intention to, (which it is not.) So, I will include some of my history for context. Last year, I was homeless for 6 months. During that time, I experienced the most severe mental break I have ever experienced, which lasted months and still makes itself known from time to time. I was diagnosed with PTSD, suffering from extreme anxiety attacks, and at times was suicidal. 2019, even once I have substantially healed, will haunt me like a ghost presumably forever. I was sixteen years old, depressed, and lost, but somehow, I managed to maintain a grade point average of 4.0, and to make myself, and my teachers, who were unaware of my circumstances, proud. That is one of my greatest achievements. Not just the grades, but each class, each debate, each moment I kept myself from falling apart or giving up. That was an exceptional feat of strength. That is the same strength I have exuded throughout this class. I never stopped, I never complained, I held myself accountable, and I became better after each hurdle jumped.
The state of the world has forced me to become self-aware. Being confined to my little apartment and taking classes through a computer screen is not my idea of a worthwhile education. Still, the self-reliance I had to develop benefited me. I had to go into myself, and Like Maya Angelou’s bird in its cage, not allow my circumstances to hinder, or to silence me. When it was not possible to fly, I had to “sing” about it, to write, with the same amount of wherewithal. Like Frankenstein’s monster when he learned of all the terrible ways of humanity, I had to be a critical thinker, to read, and teach myself about it. Like Adam and Eve in Paradise Lost, I had to adapt to a new world after some greater power threw me and everyone else from “normalcy,” and become a creative, innovative being, who must fight to make do in this dangerous reality. I have fought to see through the metaphorical bars, and hatred, glamour, and disease. I had to become like Emily Dickenson, locked in her room, writing tiny poems on scraps of paper that were not made to holds words forever. To like her, pursue greatness not to acquire approval or praise, but because it is within me to do so, and because it must come out.
I am aware that, as you have mentioned countless times, you do not care about how your students perceive you, or whether they like you. Still, I feel it important for me to say that once I realized every choice you made was in the hopes of bettering me and my peers, it became extremely hard to dislike you. I received two Cs in this class. The first C I got was on a 10 minute in-class assignment, which you told me you enjoyed, but was not written in MLA format. My first reaction was to be upset, because I thought it was formatted just fine. Further observation led me to realize that I had not switched the font to Times and had not numbered the page. At the time I found it petty, but I never made that mistake again. If I am not mistaken, every in-class grade I received after that was an A. The second C was on the mid-term exam, which was a PowerPoint presentation. I wrote “an entire dissertation,” as you put it. I was disappointed in my performance, but I improved my timing and presenting skills, and received an A on the next PowerPoint presentation. After curbing my emotions, I realized that I was meant to learn something from those losses and grew in the ways I was being asked to. Because of this class, I am considerably convinced that I will never receive a grade under 85% on any humanities centered class for the rest of my time at this school and the next. Not only because I have improved within it, but because I have developed a habit for chasing greatness that will follow me for the rest of my life.
Last week, you signed off by honoring the class and thanking us for choosing you. You used certain adjectives to describe yourself, which I will not reiterate now, but I would like to close my paper by thanking you for receiving me this semester. My “craziness” and my “ramblings.” All the loud and opiniated ideas and inaccuracies of this little black girl from Newark NJ. Most of the reasons given above for why I deserve an A are because of your competency. I am confident that enough of that competency has rubbed off on me to convince you of my worthiness. Thank you professor.