My mom only remembers that I graduated from college with honors.
Mothers are like that but, perhaps to keep me humble, she kept each of my report cards from grade school through high school.
As I took the helm of my first community marketing organization forty years ago she passed them on to me with that characteristic twinkle in her eye.
Over the years, as I came across them I would thumb through them, and come back down to earth, especially whenever I got too pleased with myself or frustrated with others.
Mrs. Bratt, my first grade teacher, wrote in the periodic notes for my parents on my report card that year, “slow to adjust at first,” “capable of doing good average work,” “reasoning poor in workbooks,” and her last entry as I moved on to second grade, “changeable.”
By the third grade, I was getting mostly B grades with one A- and a troubling C, ironically knowing one of my lifelong interests, “Nature Study.” My only “very good” was for “personal cleanliness,” a relief for my mom for sure.
All A and B grades in fourth including a B in nature study.
Good grades in fifth but check marks for accuracy, effort and study habits, meaning “improvement would probably follow if attention were given to matters checked below.”
Little work over the summer and in sixth grade, I got check marks for “high quality work” for “study habits” and “personal growth,” but only a “enjoys participation” for P.E., of concern I am sure to my dad.
That summer, as I shot up in height but not weight, I was all elbows and knees and got cut from my little league baseball team. Something wasn’t right and it would get worse before it got better.
My dad struggled with school but by the time he graduated from high school he was a star in four sports. I didn’t have his build but I made up for it by eagerly jumping into every sport I could.
But in eighth grade I disappointed both of my parents, bringing home all As and Bs again, except for one term with a C in each of the areas where my mom and dad excelled, music and P.E.
I still remember my dad’s face as he looked up incredulously after reading my report card across the dinner table.
“How do you get a C in P.E.” he said incredulously.
“In P.E,” he repeated, still in misbelief.
I didn’t have an answer, but the incredible growth spurt I had gone through for 18 months was beginning to moderate when I suddenly quit the football team.
I had lost both my confidence and my enthusiasm for sports, but what would soon become clear is that by trying much too hard, I had ruptured my Achilles tendon.
By the end of that year I had a B in both music, my mom’s passion, but I was failing miserably at filling my dad’s shoes, going into school early instead for whirlpool as my recovery was monitored.
It is then that my dad suddenly started to emphasize college like never before, like there was never an option. Oh boy.
The next year, with my body’s coordination restored and the tendon healed, I set a record that stood for a few weeks in the 440. Apparently, the forward kick I had developed to protect it paid off.
By the end of my Junior High tenure I had all As and Bs, except for a stubborn C in science, but a relief for all, I was also awarded a certificate in front of the entire student body for “Outstanding P.E. Improvement” and a standing ovation.
Not exactly the one I had hoped.
But I kept my parents guessing all the way through high school. Honor Roll one semester, while acing geometry, followed by inexplicable slips such as a C in French.
My senior year began with a C in typing and physics but a B overall. Then, right after taking both the ACT and the SAT, my grades took a nosedive as I found other interests.
I finished with a four Cs, and the timing couldn’t have been worse.
I was accepted by several colleges including BYU, probably thanks to doing well on the ACT or because someone realized that my last semester of high school had to be an anomaly.
Continuation of my inauspicious, interscholastic athletic career had tanked after partially tearing the patellar tendon in my left knee while coming down awkwardly with a pass and taking the full force of a low tackle there.
I stubbornly delayed surgery until that summer so I entered college on crutches. There were no ADA back then so it was with irony that a couple of times each week I had to take several hundred stair steps down and back again to the old Smith Fieldhouse, ironically for adaptive P.E. (therapy.)
No complaints here. I knew just how close I came to blowing getting admitted anywhere, let alone BYU. I had learned my lesson.
I stayed at or above a 3.6 throughout college, finishing well above. But to give my parents one last jolt perhaps, I got a C+ my final semester in an upper level microbiology course during a period of personal turmoil.
However, I also got an A that term in Beginning Tennis (smile.)
My parents always focused on being resilient. To them that was the final test, foretelling studies now that show that grit and learning from setbacks are better markers than grades.
They followed the ups and downs of my chosen career in community marketing, never regretting that I chose it over law. What mattered to them was that I was excelling at meaningful work for which I had passion.
They probably also know that I continued to get my share of Cs along the way but no one ever doubted my relentless desire for continuous learning and improvement.
And I always had those old report cards to help keep me grounded.
It is also why I am always so impressed at how resilient my daughter has been throughout her life and when I see how hard my grandsons bounce back from setbacks academically or in sports.