Few things matter more to high school and college students than their GPA. There is intense pressure from both society and family for students to perform at a high level and grades are the ultimate measure of that performance. Every year schools take time to honor the highest GPA and the most outstanding student in each grade and doing so gives a false impression to young people in our society. The reality is that grades just aren't that important. Sorry Valedictorians, your achievement doesn't mean much in the real world.
Some of the most successful people in the world have gone on to have amazing careers in business and public life after having less than stellar runs in academia. Many of our most famous leaders were lousy students. Vice President Al Gore, Senator John McCain, President Bush #1 and #2, Secretary of State John Kerry and Vice President Joe Biden all were mediocre at best when it came to school but went on to have long, prestigious careers in public service. President George H.W. Bush even admitted ''I refuse to release my high school transcript because I failed chemistry and I don't want anyone to know that.'' Unlike the others, Richard Nixon was an excellent student. Draw your own conclusions.
If you're thinking "sure, politicians can be lousy students but nobody really thinks they're all that bright anyway," I assure you, academic underachieving is as prevalent among captains of industry as it is among leaders of nations. Some of our most famous entrepreneurs performed marginally in college and dropped out without even graduating. Bill Gates, the richest person on earth, dropped out of Harvard during his Junior year, Mark Zuckerberg did that same after just two years. Gates, the poster-boy for average students, is famously quoted as saying "I studied every thing but never topped.... But today the toppers of the best universities are my employees."
The late, great Steve Jobs dropped out of school before graduating. Thomas Jefferson dropped out after only a few months of formal education. John D. Rockefeller dropped out of high school two months before his graduation and decided to go off and start a little company called Standard Oil. Walt Disney, Richard Branson, Elton John, James Cameron, Frank Lloyd Wright all dropped out of school to pursue their passions. These are just a few names on a very long list of brilliant or ambitious individuals who gave lackluster performances in the classroom but crushed it in real life!
We know now that there are many different types of intelligences and grades only measure a select few, and poorly at that. A GPA does not measure a person's emotional intelligence, it does not measure their leadership ability, it does not necessarily measure their ability to think outside of the box and solve problems. It does nothing to evaluate a person's ability to predict the needs of society or consumers. It does nothing to illuminate the ability of an individual to work with others and find middle ground in standoffs or conflicts. All of these things are vitally important to an individual's success in life and almost none of them are measured by grades. Grades, GPAs and standardized test scores largely measure one's ability to answer questions and regurgitate information and not much else.
This is why our world isn't run by valedictorians and straight A students. For every CEO of a major company that graduated with a 4.0 GPA, there are scores more who did not. What matters in business, and in life, is pursuing goals with a sense of purpose. Having ambition and directing that ambition toward a problem. If a person is not ambitious about doing well in school, that person will not do well in school. School is hard and takes a lot of time and effort. However, that doesn't mean that person isn't ambitious and full of talent. We all choose to apply ourselves differently and to different things and in an ideal world that is how we would be measured. Not by the letters on a piece of paper from our time in school.