Off the beat: The science of passing a class


That I’ve never outright failed a class must be some kind of minor miracle. However, that statement should be accompanied by a footnote indicating that while I’ve never failed a class, I have indeed received a “no pass” in three.

To not pass a class is a gray area of Berkeley academics. Technically, it still appears on my transcript as an unforgiving “NP.” But the other technicality is that it can’t be counted against me. It’s a nonaccomplishment that doesn’t affect my GPA at all. If anything, it’s a pure waste of time and tuition.

I’m a voracious reader, and I love learning for the sake of learning, but rather than read the books listed on syllabi, I’d undertake “Anna Karenina” or “One Hundred Years of Solitude.” I’d swelter under the sun on Memorial Glade, reading the classics, rather than attend my courses.

Hence, my three no-passed classes.

One was a freshman-year mistake. In my first semester, I enrolled in an English course I quickly found too dry, but rather than drop it and find a more stimulating use of my time, I switched my grading option to pass/no pass and just stopped showing up. On the evening of the final, I swiped a few friends into Crossroads instead.

But the other two “no pass” grades weigh more heavily on my conscience. Both were ill-fated attempts on my end to fulfill the science breadth requirements of the College of Letters and Science. (Surprise: I’m an English major.)

I could tell you I’ve struggled mightily with this challenge, but that would be a lie. The truth is that I haven’t given a shit. It’s not even like I’ve enrolled in the more challenging stuff to fulfill the two science breadths (physical and biological, for you science minds who are laughing at me right now). Hell, I’ve avoided classes that require labs as if they were the plague.

Instead, I’ve taken athlete courses. One was titled “Introduction to Oceans,” and the other was literally “Earthquakes in your Backyard.” These classes were passable. But more than that, they were also interesting. Really. I could have easily shown up, worn my glasses to see the board and taken copious notes.

Yet I half-assed. For each course, I bought the textbooks. I convinced my mother that this time would be different and that I’d really try to pass. I showed up for a few weeks, then …

I couldn’t bring myself to do the menial assignments. I simply showed up to the midterms and the finals and accepted that NP at the end of the semester. I knew what I did, after all.

So now I’m in my third quasi-science class. This one’s a natural history course in the geography department. We get to take pictures of cool plants and animals. I don’t know if there’s even a final.

And you know what? I like going to this class. I like listening to my enthusiastic, younger professor for an hour and a half. Sometimes I even take notes, but I’m still not sure what, exactly, to take notes on in science classes that may not have a final.

I guess there’s something deeper at work here, and I’m calling it a change of heart.

I’ve squandered the amazing opportunity that was presented to me at age 18. I had the chance to attend the premier public university in the world. I also had the chance to be an English major at one of the best English departments in the country.

And I don’t have anything except a 2.7 GPA and three no-passes to show for that.

At the dawn of each new year, I make a resolution to try harder in school. For the last two years, that hope has collected cobwebs. So this time, I went one step further: I don’t want to just try in school. I want to really take something away from each of my classes. This phrase probably now means nothing coming from me, but this year is going to be different. (I promise, Mom).

UC Berkeley was always a dream for me at the back of my mind. College is the last time in my entire life that I’ll be able to sit on my ass and read all day long and not have to pay for things. And I’ve wasted five semesters of that so far.

This is about more than finally knocking down those science breadths. This is about finally making something of my experience here.

To be fair, I have learned a few things. I learned that drinking, at least the way college students do it, isn’t something for which I’ll ever again have the mindset or emotions. I was sports editor of The Daily Californian last fall, the most turbulent time for Cal football. I’ve fallen in love and learned a lot there, too — like the fact that if I want people to stick around, I have to first trust that they will.

But too bad you can’t get graded on that stuff, am I right?

Editor’s Note: Sex on Tuesday will return Feb. 12.

Contact Annie Gerlach at [email protected]

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