It’s Not You Calculus, It’s Me

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Fresh out of high school, I thought I had avoided the dreaded “Calculus II” class. I was on track to take it senior year, but decided against it–you know, because calculus is the worst thing to ever happen to the world. Although I was undecided on my major, I figured I would just lean toward biology. At least it would allow my parents to find some measure of comfort in the irresolute prospect of me having a stable income.

Much to my dismay, the prerequisites for the major forced me to face the worst of my fears. I could only ignore the existence of integrals for so long before they came back to haunt me in college.

Mumbling words of regret for not taking AP Calculus, I anxiously scrolled through an abundance of ratemyprofessor.com reviews at my local community college. With my luck, all the forgiving or red-hot chili pepper worthy calculus professors had a jam-packed wait list by the time my enrollment date came around.

The class I was cornered into taking was only twice a week, which I tried convincing myself wasn’t so bad. That is, if I disregarded the fact that each session was a grueling four hours of listening to painful lectures and tapping away listlessly at a graphing calculator.

Let’s just say my performance in that class wasn’t exactly the best representation of my academic potential. Within one semester, I experienced all the trials and tribulations of a stereotypical struggling college student, down to the coffee–extra shot–running through my veins. I found myself skipping classes to cram for a few extra hours before beginning my calculus professor’s dreaded 14-page test packets. Despite the last ditch effort, I was immediately stumped on the first test question.

To be frank, I was miserable. As a full-time student, “Calculus II” was a second job (on top of the real one I already had) because of the studying time required outside of class. I turned down my friends’ offers to go out at night, broke out with acne under stress and even broke out in tears while driving home from school one night after being quite positive that I bombed a test. Because I always set high standards for myself, I began setting the bar low in that class so that I wouldn’t be as disappointed.

I couldn’t pinpoint what I was doing wrong, so I made up excuses. I whined about everything that gave my professor his 2.5 overall grade on ratemyprofessor.com, including his quick-paced and unorganized lectures and his significant grade deductions for having phones on the desk or coming in one second late. Not to mention his tendency to murmur “um” every two words. I mean, take an English class, man.

It wasn’t until I wistfully watched a few of my fellow classmates indiscreetly rejoice upon receiving their test scores that my feelings of resentment towards my professor were shifted to myself. I asked myself why I was trying to force something that wasn’t meant to be. If I was barely able to stand a “Calculus II” community college course, there was no way I would enjoy med school. I decided it was time to cease being a victim and do some soul-searching.

I dropped “Calculus II” with a “W” on my transcript, but recognized that not every failure counts as a loss. That following semester, I switched to an English major and joined my college’s newspaper. I worked my way up to the position of managing editor by staying receptive to learning new ways of improving my writing. With some encouragement from my journalism professor, I submitted my newfound portfolio to the county press club for a scholarship opportunity. Why not? I had nothing to lose but my nonexistent ego (big shout out to “Calculus II”).

Don’t get me wrong; I was shocked and humbled upon receiving the $2,500 grand prize. My bank account surely thanked me. But this wasn’t nearly as rewarding as the rush of covering breaking news stories or receiving appreciative emails from the various voices I brought recognition to in my profile features.

Looking back at that “Calculus II” class I never completed, I can now forgive myself for breaking my back over those never-ending integrals in my textbook, which might I add costed a hefty $300. I can also forgive my calculus professor for a crime he never committed, though I still firmly contest that four-hour math lectures should be illegal. In the end, I believe that if I choose to pursue what I enjoy, I may never have to work a day in my life. At least, I think that’s how the saying goes.

Crystal is a junior at UCLA studying English. She hopes to someday live at a studio apartment in the city with a corgi and a fridge always stocked with ice cream.

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