Liu: Marks versus experience

Special to WC Online

The following Op-ed piece was submitted and written by Holy Trinity Catholic School Grade 12 student Dania Liu who lives in Stittsville.

When we think Canadian hero, Terry Fox immediately comes to mind.

Why does his name establish such respect in society? If you think about it, he was a kinesiology major who did homework in his free time: practicing the human body movement of running. Despite his academic efforts, cancer got to him before he got to his diploma.

A headshot of Dania Liu.
Grade 12 student Dania Liu says experience, while hard to statistically quantitate, may have more value than good grades. Courtesy Dania Liu

When we think of Terry Fox, we don’t recall his quarter-completed degree. We remember the legacy he left from his 5,373-kilometre run in a matter of 143 days (Terry Fox and the Marathon of Hope revolutionized cancer research in Canada). Some are inspired by his story. Others, especially students such as myself, only participate in the cause when academic perks are attached.

My homeroom teacher promised the class a bonus assignment to increase our grades if we reach $1,500.
If she had relied on videos promoting community involvement, I would be using this time to score a percentage higher on this essay.

Instead, I set up a foundation page with a goal set at $251 for two reasons; 1) Any chance to submit my university application with a higher average, and 2) To beat my classmate’s goal of $250, not because I wanted to raise an additional dollar to the cause.

If it weren’t for academic benefits and competition, I wouldn’t be dedicating this time to the community.

As a senior student preparing for my post-secondary education, I evaluate the importance of my tasks based on the merit they offer to my academics. Unfortunately, I’m not the only student with this mindset out there.

Truth is, a couple decades from now, I won’t remember how my essay went from a 94 to a 94.5, and just so luckily got rounded up to a 95. But I might look down on myself for sitting at my desk all day with the usual crooked back, tucked-in neck, the occasional pencil drop and hitting the back of my head as I got up.

Then I might look up to the Canadian hero, whose clock was ticking so fast he didn’t have time to worry about the difference between a 94 and a rounded 94.5. After all, an extra percentage on an English assignment won’t cure cancer. Regardless of his life ticking away by the day, Terry managed to raise $24.2 million on a prosthetic leg during his run (Terry Fox Humanitarian Award Program). And most impressively, he did it all while standing tall and maintaining great posture.

No wonder people looked up to him.

But don’t worry, you don’t have to leave a legacy that has accumulated over $850 million along with an annual run held in your name across 30 countries to be looked up to (Terry Fox, A True Canadian hero).

Last week, my religion teacher assigned a project in attribution to Orange Shirt day. It wasn’t counted for marks, we didn’t have to worry about formatting, proofreading, nor peer editing. We just had to learn, genuinely learn, about a topic of great value to my teacher, which spread value to her students as well.

Small things like these matter. Small things that are bigger than a percentage.

Terry Fox understood this at a young age and dedicated the last few thousands of hours of his life to charity. Nowadays, high school students are complaining about missing their required 40 hours of community service. Terry was once a high school student himself, but the difference is he saw the immeasurable value within his efforts for others. Thankfully, I’m slowly beginning to understand him (and slowly fixing my posture).

In the summer, I volunteered at the Ottawa Humane Society camp. If I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have collected 40 hours, but I also wouldn’t have been able to connect with children who were overly excited to see a bunny going through puberty.

In the winter, I volunteered to shovel snow off the ice rink on my street. If I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have collected 11 hours, but I also wouldn’t have spoken with my neighbour for the first time since I moved in three years ago.

And in the mysterious world inside a church, I volunteered to guide faithful youth as an atheist. If I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have collected 27 hours, but I also wouldn’t have learned about the perspective of a group with beliefs different from mine.

Let’s be honest, if you’re missing your community service hours in your last year of high school, you may not be the brightest kid in class. You may be the type to roll up your tests as soon as you receive them and make a jump shot to the recycle bin (then miss your shot because you’re not the brightest basketball player either). Now, I’m not telling you to throw away your tests, but don’t let a percentage determine what you can bring to the community. And don’t let your youth get thrown away to achieve that percentage.

You can spend your high school years pulling all-nighters, test after test, and bring home an award for reaching the highest average, then discovering a typo in your engraved name. But when you come back to reminisce over the prime years of your life, even your principal won’t remember congratulating you and taking that picture with you that is now hanging on a wall next to other model students. You’ll look closer and see the spelling of your name still hasn’t been fixed. Maybe it’s easier to remember you as “the one with the eyebags.”

In the end, you could build a “save money, live best” Walmart. Perhaps you’d prefer a “just did it” Nike.

Or keep it simple and expand Amazon services to Mars. You could beat Elon Musk in terms of wealth and intelligence, and still not earn an ounce of respect. Or you may not even have the privilege of a post-secondary education like Terry. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to understand why children love hormonal bunnies, or to learn the name of your neighbour, or to connect with the unique people surrounding you.

None of which you are graded for, but should still put in as much effort as you would for a four-plus essay. Because you too, can be a respected Canadian hero. And you too, can have great posture.

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