As the semester trudges along, I can’t help but feel exhausted by my honors demands. Between the passport events, odd core requirements and general alienation from the rest of campus, I wonder if the effort I put into getting into honors was ever worth it in the first place.
It may seem reactionary to suggest that I would be better off without the honors program, but I wonder about its importance. Have I assigned too much of my personal value to an arbitrary title?
In examining this question, I've come to realize that I had been thinking about honors from outside-in rather than inside-out. When I define my value by the existence of an honor instead of the specific opportunities found through that honor, I undermine my own ability.
“Honors” as a term can mean multiple concepts to multiple people. Thus, it should be explained what the honors available at LMU are, of which there are three main groups: Latin honors, the University Honors Program, and Honors Societies.
Latin honors (cum laude, magna cum laude and summa cum laude) are the phrases attached to a graduate’s diploma to signify the cumulative grade point average that student had upon graduation. These more traditional honors are commonplace across most universities but have been the subject of major scrutiny.
“Latin honors are a fine way to acknowledge superior work at the undergraduate level; however, the meaningfulness of these recognitions has been eroded by rampant grade inflation,” said Dr. Brian Treanor, a professor of philosophy at LMU. “Grade inflation is a problem at every university in the country; it is not specific to LMU. A number of the most elite universities in the country have dodgy policies that allow students to avoid poor marks.”
According to the Wall Street Journal, higher percentages of graduates at USC, John Hopkins and Wellesley College have earned Latin honors over the past decade due to grade inflation. It’s reasonable to assume that these same trends are as evident at LMU as they are at USC.
While graduating cum laude is an impressive feat, the impact of grade inflation combined with the impersonal nature of the honor limits a person's potential excellence that other honors might spotlight.
For instance, LMU has the University Honors Program, of which I am a member. The Program, according to its "about" page, “nurtures our students’ academic, professional, and personal growth, truly fostering a ‘whole-person’ education.”
Students in the program can apply as incoming freshmen during the spring semester all the way through the second semester of their sophomore year. These application requirements could unfortunately create a system of recruiting already strong high-schoolers and lower-level college students in a self-fulfilling legacy. In practice, that doesn’t appear to be the case.
“Although admissions offices throughout America often think of the value of honors in terms of recruiting academically strong students,” said Dr. Brad Stone, former director of the University Honors Program, “those of us who have ever directed honors thinks more about the end product, what a student will be after graduating from an honors program.”
During my time in the program, I can confirm that it has been a great opportunity for me to meet many other dedicated individuals with all sorts of backgrounds, interests, strengths and weaknesses. Everyone in the program is resourceful and extremely welcoming to all their fellow students, honors or not.
The benefits of such an inclusive honors group can likely extend further to honors societies like the Tau Beta Pi Engineering Society or the Beta Gamma Sigma Business Society. Like the University Honors Program, these societies bring together students in similar fields but diverse and unique identities that contribute new ideas and leadership in areas in which they truly have an interest rather than having the dull goal of a high grade.
It’s important to acknowledge that this talk of honors is just a suggestion for anyone wanting to seek the opportunities in any of these programs; you can still be an amazing student, accomplish your goals and have a fulfilling college experience without honors.
As Dr. Treanor writes in his essay, “How to Behave, and Succeed, at University,” “Varied sorts of research suggest that most people are very, very bad at predicting what will actually make them happy and, as a consequence, many people spend a great deal of time and energy pursuing things that are ultimately not in their best interests. Think about that carefully, and frequently.”
The way your college experience plays out is completely up to you.
This is the opinion of Cristobal Spielmann, a freshman environmental science major from Brentwood, Tennessee. Tweet comments @LALoyolan, or email email@example.com.