Ted Talk Overview: What Does Your Academic Performance Really Mean?

Ella Roberts, Staff Writer

Many students struggle with basing their perceived self-value and intelligence on their grades. Especially at such a stressful time in life, high schoolers are prone to correlating grades in their classes to their intellect and potential to succeed in college. 

Eva Chen’s recent TED Talk addresses the impact of a poor grade, her personal academic experiences and the reasons students are unable to maximize their full potential. Chen disapproves of the common belief that it is better to do well in a class one does not love than working to learn new information in an enjoyable yet challenging class. 

In the beginning of the speech, Chen recalls a conversation between herself and a friend. Chen remembers that her friend declined to take a particular English Literature class simply because she received a poor letter grade the previous year. Even though Chen’s friend had a zeal for English, that one grade letter gave her the idea that she was not smart enough to take the more challenging class the following year. 

Here at Minnetonka, Cooper Odegard, ‘25,  said, “I know well that students in my grade wouldn’t take a class the next year if they got a bad grade in [that subject] the previous year.” He also said that “it wouldn’t matter to them if they liked the class; everyone’s just focused on keeping their grades up.” 

Regarding this decision-making process, Chen said, “shouldn’t the point of school be about fostering our interests and becoming better at something?” and emphasized the degree to which students reject certain classes due to the fear that it will lower their grade point average (GPA). 

During the speech, Chen shared details of her own personal academic journey. While she said that currently she holds all A’s in her classes, she used to be the complete opposite. During elementary school, she had recently immigrated to Canada which led to her nearly failing second and third grade. Members of the Minnetonka community need to recognize that students today might face language and social barriers, family issues, mental-health-related issues or bullying, which might lead to lower grades. Chen said that nothing frustrates her more than students believing they are smarter than others simply because their grades are stronger.

If this is the case, how can students rewrite the narrative and change the mindset that high grades equals intelligence? 

As clear as it is, the education system today is in a one-size-fits-all category–the same strategy might be used for a variety of students. While students may not be able to change the school system, they can remember one important detail: grades do not define intelligence nor potential. 

In summary, take enjoyable classes. Learn with a curious mind rather than conforming to classes and joining just for the grade. It is time to change the perspective about what grades really mean and push away the thinking that students are worth only what their GPA measures.