Robert Hsu
The Casual Observer

Credit: Robert Hsu

When I imagined getting my first A-, I wasn’t sure how I would react. Would there be tears, screams or despair?

I thought I would think to the string of As I had gotten all my life and how they were ruined.

It’s easy to identify ourselves — evaluate our achievements and determine our self-worth — by our grades. After all, while we are in school, grades are often the only thing that we can use to show the world what we have accomplished.

But the day I got my first A-, I didn’t cry, scream or think about how I had ruined my streak of As. A few minutes after logging onto Penn InTouch, my small frown broke into a bright smile.

I smiled as I recounted the countless nights I stayed up to prepare for quizzes, the hours I spent typing up lab reports, the evenings I spent scribbling down answers to questions that sometimes puzzled me until the early morning. Most of all, I thought about all the new knowledge I had accumulated during my first semester at Penn.

What does an A- even mean? Does it mean that I’m an A- person? An A- student with an A- work ethic and an A- future? No. But these things could come true if I let myself react that way. An A- merely means an A- performance on tasks meant to measure my understanding of a subject.

As hard as it is, sometimes we need to distance ourselves from our grades. This is something I am trying to learn. Our grades cannot tell the world how we treat others, the hidden quirks in our personality or the talents that make us unique. Our grades do not encompass our entire lives, just one part of it.

I used to think hard work was like working at a restaurant: if I put in enough hours, I would receive what I want. High school was pretty much the same story. I would work hard and cash my efforts in for a handful of As at the end of every semester. Those As would be secured in a bank account with report cards filled with As.

But college is different. Even if you work as hard as you can, you don’t always get what you want. Instead, your efforts might get rewarded with an A-.

I am still amazing. Even with an A-. I know it.

Robert Hsu is a College and Wharton freshman from Novi, Mich. Despite his one slip-up freshman fall, he’s really an ‘A ’ person at heart. Email him at

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