The Grace of 5%

Alternate title: What it feels like to be on the Dean’s List.

Since the official photos were released today, I thought it would be nice to write a short entry about ‘what it feels like to be on the Dean’s List.’ This combines some background history, random thoughts and feelings about feelings into something hopefully of value to the reader.

At the very least, it’ll be a good way to reflect on this achievement, though it wasn’t one I aimed for. “What it feels like to be a Dean’s Lister’ might have flowed more naturally as an alternate title, but I feel that that title implies me being on it more than once. I don’t foresee ending up on it again, but I do, then maybe that’ll be a post for another time.

The Event

So I collected a nice-looking certificate for the Dean’s List at a short ceremony last Friday afternoon for good performance in Semester 2 of AY 16/17. Smiled, shook hands, had my photo taken, signed that I received the correct envelope and had the opportunity to meet a couple of good acquaintances who also won it.

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I look pretty dashing 🙂 (if I do say so myself – a far cry from my usual dressing). Also more well dressed than the A/P giving it to me, lol.

And that’s about it. Most of the ceremony was spent waiting for it to begin, hearing a short speech and watching the long line of recipients go up to collect their cert, then coming down. I have a feeling my graduation day will probably be the same – except slightly more bittersweet because that’ll mean the end of undergraduate life and slightly longer because of the Valedictorian speech.

Anyway, I digress. That’s more or less what happened. I should probably laminate the certificate.

The (long) Background

Starting the first semester back as a freshie, I had came across random blogs like this in my ‘CAP 5 at all costs’ and thought ‘hey, that’s pretty cool. Maybe I’ll try mugging hard.’ Indeed, there are quite a few things which turn up if one searches for them.

Unfortunately I either didn’t mug hard enough or didn’t mug smart enough. That’s one possibility. The other possibility was that I was going through a shit time dealing with the breakup of a complicated friendship/relationship/somewhere-in-between/no-idea-what-it-was thingy and it made it extremely difficult to focus on what I was studying. That, and parachuting into FASS solo didn’t bode too well for my mental health. So I was clocking in the hours and doing the “correct stuff” – getting enough sleep, asking questions at the end of lecture, preparing well for tutorials, etc etc but not too much was going in and even less was coming out.

One can blame brain rot due to NS or a combination of factors. Whatever the cause, my grades are on the Module Review page for all to see – three B’s, a B+ and an A-.

A CAP of 3.8. I was devastated. I could have SU’d all the B’s to start off at 4.25, but I was advised against it on the grounds that doing so might destabilize my CAP (which is good advice, except those B’s were the lowest I would score for the rest of my university career). And so I kept all three B’s despite having the grade-free first sem option, figured that majoring in Econs would be suicide and vowed never to do another philo mod involving formal/informal logic. At the very least, I enjoyed my public speaking module (if slightly disappointed I didn’t at least get an A-) and saw the B from my 2k PS mod as a ‘baptism by fire’ – now I knew what it meant to compete against those who were more knowledgeable than me in class.

The A- from my PS intro convinced me that PS was the way to go, and so I declared my major after my first semester. But what devastated me was that my dreams of getting a CAP 5 or first class honors were well and truly gone – it was nigh impossible to claw my way up as I believed it would only get harder (which, truthfully, it did).

So…nothing good going on for friendships and dealing with shit in relationships, distant from God in church and wondering what the purpose of cell groups were, and now this. Dreams of flying high academically to “compensate” for other areas evaporated right in front of my eyes, despite trying my damnest to mug.

It was pretty bad – one felt they had failed before having begun the battle, and that it was all over in spite of one’s best efforts.

Semester two came, and between the end of semester one and semester two some things had happened. I was now attending CF due to the presence of two individuals motivating me to go, even though this “Bible Study” thing was all Greek (and new) to me. It wasn’t much, but it was a start. I had successfully made a few friends after asking a few tutorial mates out for lunch (got rejected a few times when girls thought I was hitting on them with a lunch invitation – “Sorry, I’ve already got a boyfriend” was somewhat frustrating but also understandable. Also it’s amusing in retrospect but it certainly wasn’t at that time), and trying to form deeper friendships with my newfound community in CF helped to some extent.

I took on three major mods (a rarity since most of my cohorts were clearing their GEs and baskets taking intro mods) and surprisingly did much better. Less time spent mugging, because I was now attending Bible Study weekly on Thursdays. Less intensity in mugging, because I had given up on a CAP 5/FCH dream. And then I opened my grades page – B, B+, A-, A-, A-.

I was flabbergasted. The B came from GER1k, a module most disliked, and I had one free S/U carried over for me because I was pre-allocated the module only in semester two. So that was happily SU’d and remains to date the only mod SU’d.

Seeing the single B+ and string of A-‘s made me think “hey, I might be on to something here. I’m not sure what’s going on, but this is really cool. Let’s see what happens.” From 3.8, my Cap had climbed to a bare second upper of 4.06. A relief that I was above the threshold for a second upper, but I wasn’t sure if I could stay there.

Summer came and went. I attended the VCF Freshmen Orientation Camp again, the second time in a row, and had a spiritual awakening at that camp. That reflection post details it a little more, but it was pretty good. That more or less remains the key highlight for the summer of 2016. (Why an awakening? Because a revival implies there was something before – and I knew that there was nothing before to revive. But an awakening, yes, something had awakened).

A new year started, and I was asked if I would like to help out as a Bible Study Leader in the CF CG I had been attending. My two reasons for attending CG had disappeared – The Bearded One had graduated along with a good friend Amthrax, while the Priestess was now involved in starting up her church’s campus ministry and so couldn’t come to CF anymore due to both being on the same day. Reflecting on my lack of Biblical knowledge but expressing a willingness to serve, I said yes to being a BSL and slowly got to learn more about CF from a clean slate. Shortly after I made the decision, a junior of mine gave me this oft-quoted one-liner when I told him how I felt inadequate:

“God doesn’t call the qualified; He qualifies the called.”

It’s a snippy line, but it encouraged me – that God would take care of my studies despite me spending more time learning the ropes of teaching and facilitating discussions about a book I barely knew (the Bible), and about a faith I barely knew (Christianity). Also that God would equip me so that I could carry out my tasks well – in ministry as well as in my studies.

I hadn’t the faintest idea what was going on, but I knew I had something tangible, something real – my experience at the 2016 FoC. And so I persevered in my third semester, taking an infamous module even among PS students and doing dual 3ks when some of my cohort hadn’t even tried taking a 3k. I did get the feeling I was biting off more than I could chew, but relished every opportunity and challenge as a chance to prove myself.

The semester came and went – I learned the ropes of facilitating BS discussions, my friendships continued with my three friends (TBO, Amthrax and the Priestess) faithfully while other friendships (Debris, Kaixer) were maintained. A few new friends were made as well from the 2016 FoC camp – Dug and Nikita, through whom I later met and knew Fern, Lotte and Rocher. I did my work dutifully, got my ass scolded dutifully and went for the finals dutifully.

B+, B+, A-, A, A. Wow. I hadn’t expected to get a full A, let alone twin A’s, and for a module that cost me much grief as well. My Cap jumped up to 4.21 – less studying, less intensive mugging compared to when I was a freshie, and yet that was my best semester yet.

Over the winter break, I went for AnnTic, a VCF camp that caters more towards mature Christians and less towards new Christians. I had another similar experience there – a good reflective experience and learning more about God. And so, I entered the last semester of Year 2 looking forward to what would come, yet cognizant that that semester was probably the last semester my CAP could continue to climb. After all, once you’ve begun Year 3 and started on Year 4, it’s a lot more difficult to continually score good grades when everybody’s done a couple of years in the same major as you. Also since CAP’s cumulative and you’ve got half of your gradebase, it’s a lot harder to lift it up.

I was challenged once more, this time by doing four major modules (as I had declared a Global Studies minor at the end of Y2S1). Two of them were in an area unfamiliar to meglobal political economy. I figured by taking both of them that I could utilize the module synergy – either I would score in both or die in both. Double or nothing, so to speak. The other PS module was a followup to a module I had scored B+ in within the previous semester – I wanted to see whether I could do better in this module now that I had a little bit of knowledge regarding Africa.

And then an unexpected thing happened. Sometime in April, I was reconciled with Guinevere (I later wrote a short story about this, since I tend to express my emotions better in poorly-written narratives. They were never my strong suit in secondary school 😥 ). through a few (possibly miraculous from my perspective) strange circumstances. It had taken me a long time to forgive her, but forgiveness isn’t the same as being reconciled, and I finally felt as if a door in the past had been closed – that it was time for a new chapter of life to begin.

A few days before I got my results for the semester, Kas and Rein asked me what I hoped and expected. There’s a slight difference – ‘expect/prepare for the worst and hope for the best’, so the saying goes. One’s hopes usually differ from reality unless they take special care to have realistic hopes. So I said I expected three B+’s and two A-‘s, but hoped for three A-‘s and two B+’s.

My rationale was that I didn’t spend as much time writing my essay, so I probably wouldn’t score very well. That is to say, some of my classmates would begin brainstorming their essays in week 4, slowly write and edit it all the way till week 12 and submit it before the deadline so that they’re sure they’ve written the best they could.

Me? I’d brainstorm an essay in week 4, consult a bit in week 5, slam out an essay in week 6 and submit it after I was done. Only once did I consult in the middle of an essay because I wasn’t sure where my paper was headed, and I went home having to do major revamps to the paper. After that major revamp, I submitted it like a month before it was due and went to play CS:GO or do other stuff like preparing for Bible Study.

I’m not kidding, I played a lot of CS:GO during both semesters.

My point is not to say that ‘don’t study, serve God and God will give you good marks.’ I think that’s a bit biblically dishonest – there are verses encouraging man to do his work and labour on even in this life. Rather, it’s to say that I did pretty much the opposite of what freshie me would’ve done – mugging and studying less, playing a lot more computer, serving God a lot more and basically not doing what one expects one should do in order to get good marks. Quite some time was spent meeting with friends like Priestess, making new friends and maintaining old friendships – so how could that time be spent on studying? Hence, my modest expectations despite my hopes.

The Reaction

I blearily opened my eyes and took my phone. I was planning to check them and go back to sleep, then react over it the rest of the day. All I was thinking before I turned it on was ‘God, please give me enough to maintain my cap above 4. A few B+’s averaged out with A-‘s would do that for me, Lord, so while I pray that Thy will be done, I do hope for grades within that range.’.

“Semester 2 2016/2017; GEH1022 A-; GL1101E A; GL2102 A; PS3238 A; PS3272 A; CAP: 4.39”

…hu-?

…what?

I should be going back to sleep, but I don’t think I can sleep now. Well, there goes my sleep.

I rubbed my eyes and stared at the screen again. No mistake – four A’s and one A-.

…what the heck?

I was overjoyed, but still confused. I hadn’t prayed for this or dreamed of it in my wildest dreams (since those usually involved things other than grades/academics), but there it was.

And after it sunk in, I was like “wow…”

I guess this is grace, right there.

Thoughts

It’s often been said that justice is getting what you deserve, grace is getting what you don’t deserve and mercy is not getting what you deserve. So while grace and mercy sometimes look similar (a condemned man being shown mercy in not being punished can also be said to be receiving the grace of acquittal), they sometimes look vastly different.

Hence, the title of this post. If you’ve read through the long background, congratulations. You now know how surprised I would be at receiving such good grades and being placed on the Dean’s List because of them – I never expected something like this, because of, well, precisely what had happened in the past. My experience of studying hard didn’t get me anywhere as a freshie in Semester One, and yet doing the things that freshie me would’ve thought as being foolish or foolhardy somehow resulted in something beyond my wildest dreams.

I acknowledge that I did my work, but I also acknowledge that I probably didn’t spend as much time or effort working on it the way others did. I cannot control what others did, and indeed, many others probably give tuition or are in more CCAs and thus can’t commit as much time to studying. The less financially well off have to work to support their education – such is the luxury I have of not having to work part time.

So I fully consider these good results and achievement to be an example of God’s grace. Back in the summer of 2017 where I still didn’t know whether my results were good enough to be on the Dean’s List, I agonized over my lack of working experience (thus far, my only working experience dates back to army. A packed and unpredictable schedule for both summers and winters made it difficult to be employable part-time if one couldn’t commit at least a few days a week). I wondered if I had been short-changed by God – that in serving so much and still trying to study, maybe I had gotten the short end of the ‘nothing to write on one’s resume’ stick.

On the same day I had those thoughts and musings, I got the email congratulating my placement on the Dean’s List. Call it a coincidence or divine intervention, but that greatly encouraged me.

Although I’m not from ACJC, I like their motto: “To God Be The Glory; The Best Is Yet To Be”. For that reason, the acronym TGBTG lies within several of my module reviews 🙂

Concluding Thoughts

I’m not the brightest bulb in the box; sharpest knife in the drawer; etc etc etc, neither am I a walking saint. Indeed, one of my favorite quotes is ‘A saint is a sinner that never stopped trying.’ This is thus not ‘holiness for grades’ or ‘mugging for grades’ , rather, “I do my work and God does His – whatever the results, glory be that Thy will is done” seems to work for me in understanding how something like this happened. It would be ludicrous to claim all credit for myself because I know that’s not possible – how could not working so hard actually have the opposite result? And so, I find it easy to simply acknowledge that I did my job and give any glory which might emerge to God.

What does the future hold? I’m not very sure – this semester, I once again feel that I’ve bitten off more than I could chew. If I repeated the results of my previous semester, my CAP should end nicely on 4.5 – the bare minimum for a FCH, and something I had dreamed of when I was a freshie. But I now recognize that it’s better to get a SUH and in a happy, Godly, relationship than get a FCH and remain single (as evidenced by the few NUSWhisper posts I’ve came across in the past despairing of something like this, some things are worth more than grades). It’s not the same for everyone of course, some might be able to have great academics and an active social life while others need to decide what trade-off works for them.

For me, I reckon I’d rather have a wife and kids at my deathbed than to be staring at a FCH degree scroll. SUH isn’t the same as being a FCH, of course, but it’s a compromise I’m happy with. In any case, I’ll just stick to what I have been doing – do my part in studying and preparing while continuing to serve God in a greater capacity for this AY. Something has to give, and that would be my hobbies – I’ve hardly gamed this semester and remain unlikely to, simply because of the lack of time I have for it. As I have more things on my plate and priorities change, gaming and other hobbies fall lower and lower – for good reason, too. Should my CAP fall or I fail to repeat this performance, it’s cool – as long as I know I’ve given my best for God, there’s precious little to feel regretful about.

I like G.K Chesteron’s quote when asked about determinism and self-fulfilling prophecies.

I do not believe in a fate that falls on men however they act; but I do believe in a fate that falls on them unless they act.

In short, one’s fate might be determined simply be one’s action. Of course muddle it up with inaction being the same as action and you’ve got a bit more of a quandary to work one’s way out of, but taken simply, it’s a good impetus for one to act.

A good many people receive their awards and forget about it – after all, it’s just a nice piece of paper and something to write on one’s C.V. After one’s gotten their first job, nobody cares about whether or not they were on the Dean’s List one time back in college. Let’s be realistic here – that’s how insignificant something like this is. But I felt that out of all those who did receive theirs, I wanted to write about the journey behind it (others have already written something like this as well) – to show that it wasn’t from “on high” that some receive something like this, and that maybe out of this background, someone might learn something about themselves or God from it.

If even one person might have benefited from this, these three plus hours spent typing it out was not for naught.

Just for fun

When Googling for ‘Dean’s List NUS’, I came across this page where several Law DLers were asked what their secrets were. In the spirit of fun, let me try answering the questions as well, interview-style.

All of them have a nice photo of themselves. Hm…

10-years-runescape

Nope, that’s probably the wrong picture.

Cropped MUN

Taken of me at SMUN 2015. What a blast it was – I like it because I wasn’t posing, but it captures my smile when I’m not RBFing.

I don’t really have many nice photos of myself (I don’t have many photos of myself, actually…), but that should suffice.

Alright, what’s next?

Profile:

Age: 23 (I’m so old…)

Junior College: Jurong Junior College (the one that’s closing down. Yes, in the future, I might as well have graduated from Mars).

Relationship Status: Single for 23 years and going strong (I don’t want to go strong on that) ready to mingle (no that sounds wrong too) waiting for a girl in a poly relationship with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit (:D) to ask him out. That’ll probably never happen, but hey, if it did, I’d call it a miracle since almost no Christian girls would even consider something like this. But yes, single by circumstance rather than choice it’s not like I have an anime harem situation and still am single, unlike a certain Smartphone protagonist. and hopefully I’ll meet/find someone at the right (aka God’s) time. The biblically correct answer that also makes sense to me, actually.

Mugging hours/week: Mugging? What mugging? I do my readings before lectures, prep for tutorials and write my essays. If there’s a midterm I’ll revise a bit, maybe draw up some notes, but that’s about it.

GPA for Year One: 4.06. Yes, that’s right, a whole 0.06 above 4. That’s 0.06 above 4. Amazing ainnit.

Tell us about your rituals or habits before the exams. I try to get nine hours of sleep but usually I’m too nervous/excited about it, so I usually enter with less rest than I’d like to have (not for lack of trying though). Usually I’d have done up my notes during Reading Week and scanned through them a couple of days/the night before, committing usually the examples to memory (since I should know how the mechanisms work already). Then I’ll browse through notes idly an hour before the paper begins outside the exam hall, usually with a USB fan keeping me cool. I clear my RAM thoughts 15 to 30 minutes before the paper begins, pray that I’ll do my best for God whatever grades I might get, and go into the hall.

Choices:

Library, Study Room or Benches?

I prefer to study at home actually…I’m not that productive if I don’t work (study), but when I do work it helps having more than one screen. If I’m forced to study in school due to free time between lessons/meetings though, then yes, Level 5 at CLB is where you might find the ‘dude in blue shoes’. It has just the right mix of power plugs and quietness – Level 6’s too noisy and Level 3 lacks power plugs. I need both plugs and quietness, so Level 5 it is.

I’ve got no idea what the study room is, but I don’t like studying at the benches along CLB because it’s hot and distracting when people walk past. Constant walking and talking in front of my eyes makes it hard to concentrate I guess.

Contract, Tort, or Company?

I think this refers to the different types of law one can take. Since I don’t do law, let me change the question:

Public Administration, Political Theory, Comparative Politics or International Relations?

I’d have to say IR even though I’m not a hardcore IR fan. PA is fun to think about – seeing societal problems as a Rubik’s Cube and finding the best policy to fix them. PT is fun to think about, but one usually becomes disillusioned because what is thought about usually takes a long time to be translated practically, if it ever is implemented. Comparative Politics is quite cool as well, but there are just so many things to compare (plus I’m not a specialist in any country), so sometimes it’s quite overwhelming.

IR deals with the exciting stuff…bombs, guns, nuclear weapons, big things that go boom. It also involves the fun, nasty stuff – biting economic sanctions, political brinksmanship and theater. Examines foreign policy and all…yea, I’m no military hardware geek, but I more generally enjoy what I’ve learned within here so far.

So on a scale of say, one to ten where ten is ‘my bae’ and one is ‘no way…’, it would probably look like:

PA: Six (meh, not too bad, sometimes interesting)

PT: Seven (a little more interesting than looking at populations or transport)

CP: Somewhere between seven and eight (might be interesting, might be also a lot of work)

IR: Usually eight or halfway to nine, sometimes nine.

Mindy Chen, Teo Keang Sood or Hans Tijo?

No idea who these Profs are but I like Profs that teach in the PT style – William Bain (in the PS3233 mod I’m doing this sem) and Patrick Taylor Smith (who taught me GL1101E). Their delivery sometimes helps to make dull content much better than it initially appears to be.

The Serious Questions:

Take us through a typical day of school for you.

I usually bus to school, but if I’ve just missed the bus and there are bikes from those bike-sharing programs around, I’ll hop on one and cycle for about six to seven minutes. I usually sit with friends during lectures as well, but if I’m soloing in a lecture then I try to make acquaintances to do small talk with. Occasionally I’ll prepare for the lecture by drafting out the outline if it is provided beforehand so I can focus on what is said (all my notes are handwritten in OneNote on my Surface Pro 3 so I can draw diagrams while ensuring my hand still remembers how to write come finals), but otherwise I’ll usually make up my notes as the lecture is proceeding and colour code key authors.

Breaks between classes are either spent clearing work (tutorial prep/clearing readings) in CLB on Level 5 after I’ve had lunch. Sometimes I meet up with old friends during lunch to find out how they’ve been doing (friendship maintenance/support) or use these lunch opportunities to make new friends (friendship formation)/do ministry via PLUMBs, but if I’m having lunch alone I’ll make it quick so I can head to the library after.

Usually I bus home after classes are over (unless I’ve got CF on that day, in which case I lead/attend CG and possibly supper after before coming home) and I try to remain productive when I’m home. An early shower and trying to clear some work before dinner comes – some slacking during dinner watching animes or clearing Youtube subscriptions/browsing Reddit – then clearing up on more work after.

On the weekends I’ll usually wake up a bit later and try to get more work done for the upcoming week. Sometimes I’ll call Kas and Rein to catch up, other times I’ll be planning for ministry. And sometimes I attend/serve in church as a drummer for the worship services~

How do you study for your exams? Any tips for your juniors and peers?

I find that making notes months in advance doesn’t really help, because when one is just reading through their notes it doesn’t register very much in the memory. So I usually leave my note-making till Recess Week (of course I’d have done detailed notes of each reading before that – I never return to a reading unless I’m unclear about something in my own notes, so I only do a reading once.) and start making notes about a week before the paper begins. I usually finish these ‘Notes for Finals’ in about two to three days, after which I’ll scan through a couple of days/the night before and develop my own stances if possible (to save time during the essay portion), then once more on the actual exam day.

Usually finding out and understanding why the Profs teach the module in a certain way helps one in studying for that module. The method the Profs adopt (thematic, chronological, case study heavy) might not work for you, but it usually has a method to the “madness” and so if you figure out why they try to teach that module that way and it works for you, then you just need to follow the way they’ve structured the module and recalling/understanding things should be much easier.

As always, consult your Profs/TAs about anything you’re not sure. They can really blow your mind through their depth of experience – plus they’re a lot more well read than you so they’d know quite well what they’re talking about. Usually they can also point you to new developments in the field or potential points of interest to begin an inquiry from, so that helps assignments as well.

Complete the sentence: “If I could live life all over again, I would be…”

If we assume everything would have proceeded as per what one has experienced in life based on the choices one made (in which case changing some choices might affect others), I would probably have tried harder to learn the piano and studied more when I was younger. Some paths lead to places one can’t reach by other means, and other paths develop one as a person slightly better than others. Other paths might also offer a slightly easier (or varied) route to the same end, potentially opening up new opportunities in the process.

Some random question

Well I’ve got no random question for myself, but if you see me in school you can always ask one 😀


Whew, that was long. Alright then, let’s send this out and get on with life.

And there, but for the grace of God, go I…

(For those wondering why ‘the grace of 5%’, the Dean’s List is given to the top 5% of each cohort. In this sense it’s God’s grace that I’m in the top 5%, hence the title.)

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