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What do a candidate’s freshman year grades in college really have to do with anything?

June 13, 2005, 7:11 PM

I was reading an article in the Staunton News Leader today at work, talking about John Kerry’s grades in college as compared to those of George W. Bush. I was reading the article, and the question came up again and again – what does this have to do with anything? John Kerry graduated Yale in 1966, and George W. Bush graduated in 1968. As of Election Day 2004, that would make John Kerry’s college days 38 years in the past, and would make George W. Bush’s college days 36 years in the past. Since then, both men pursued their various careers.

I consider career accomplishments better performance indicators than grades, which I consider along the lines of the old saying, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damn lies, and statistics.” Call it what you will, but I find grades to be rather meaningless, as I’ve seen so many professors play with the numbers to make the grades look the way they want them to look. Besides, what’s important in the college experience? I quote from Dr. Stillion’s Student FAQ:

Since THAT is the very, very valuable thing for which you are investing all this money, time, and energy, you should study with the goal of learning ALL of the material to the best of your ability – and NEVER MIND the grade. In the end, you are NOT learning this stuff for a grade (I know that may seem strange, but it is nevertheless TRUE). Ten years from now, NOBODY will care what grade you made in this course – NOT EVEN YOU … . However, ten years from now, somebody’s LIFE may depend upon how well you comprehended and retained this material with the ability to APPLY it to their situation. … This is true for Psychology classes whether or not you ultimately work in a Psych-related field. Even if you ended up working picking strawberries somewhere, your ability to recognize, for example, a depressed co-worker and get them the help they need could make the difference between life and death for them.

The same page also talks about rendering a grade meaningless via statistics. It’s a good read.

With that in mind, back to the original topic. Bush and Kerry’s grades. Do we care? I’d much rather hear about their positions on foreign and domestic policy (particularly domestic policy, personally) and how they intend to implement their goals than the number of “D’s” that a candidate got more than thirty years ago. It makes no difference to me that Bush and Kerry were “C” students. It makes no difference to me that John Kerry got four D’s his freshman year, and Bush got only one. I got a “D” myself my freshman year, in MATH 205 – introductory Calculus. I got a D in the course, and am grateful to Dr. Sal Liriano for giving me that D, because I probably deserved to fail the course.

When I’m looking at a presidential candidate, I’m looking at their stands on issues, their voting records, and actions taken in the past. Let me form an opinion on the person’s performance, vs. looking at a grade from over thirty years ago, which essentially already have an opinion attached to them.

For that matter, character issues don’t carry any weight for me, either, like how Bill Clinton was a philanderer. It really doesn’t concern me.

So all in all, I don’t see the big deal in looking back at the candidates’ grades, and I don’t think it should be an issue.

Web site: Transcript shows Kerry's Yale grades similar to Bush - The article in question, from another paper's site

Song: I've still got those animutation songs stuck in my head...

Quote: "Bush and Kerry were C students? Who cares!"

Categories: National politics