I found Cemetech during the later part of my 7th grade, after having been introduced to it by Kerm's TI-83/84 programming book when I was gifted it by my grandparents, packaged along with a shiny new TI-84 Plus CSE. That calculator was astoundingly slow, but its limitations were fuel for my creativity. It sparked a good year or two spurt of ingenuity that I don't think I've matched since. My mind was always sprawling with ideas, and the code just came out naturally. I didn't have many friends during this time, so my extra time in class was mostly taken up programming on my calculator. It was a beautiful outlet for my childish creativity. I was quite prone to accidental RAM clears, so I often found myself rewriting the same program over and over, usually better and smaller each time. Though I'm not nearly as good at it as some of you on here, I felt I got pretty good at tightly optimizing my TI-BASIC code. My hobby quickly grew far beyond just the lowly CSE, and my love for engineering was born. I was thrown into a vast new world full of fascinating topics that would keep me up all night. I taught myself how to read different bases, how to make a computer out of bare logic gates, taught myself calculus and matrix manipulation, and eventually dug my way into ez80 assembly and "real" programming languages.

Like many of you during your time in middle school, I was just cognitively on another level than most of my peers. When it came to math and science, I thought faster than anyone else in my class by a good margin. None of the work in any of my classes was remotely challenging, especially in math. I coasted through middle school without having studied for a test once. I didn't know how to be a good student, but that didn't matter. I aced everything without even trying, just as I had been doing since I could read. This wasn't unexpected by me or my parents or teachers. I was always in whatever "gifted" program my school offered. When I wasn't playing with my calculator, I was reading a book. And when I wasn't doing that, I way playing outside with the neighborhood kids. It was a good time. 8th grade was the last time I got good grades without difficulty.

I begin my descent

High school seemed to come and go so fast, looking back on it now. I became much more "normal" during that time. It was about halfway through my sophomore year that I dropped most of my middle school awkwardness and finally settled into a group of friends that I still stick with to this day. They resonated with me more than any people my age I've ever met. If I found something funny, odds were that they probably found it funny too. Just like me, they were perfectly happy to launch into any deep philosophical discussion on a whim, without trying to derail it with dumb jokes all the time. It was during that period that I developed most of my moral and spiritual values that started to mold me into a more sophisticated adult. Though we were similar in a lot of ways, I was certainly the black sheep academically. I was an extreme procrastinator, usually waiting until the period before my work was due to actually start working on it, if at all. I often turned things in days or weeks late, which led to a lot of mediocre grades during my high school career. But it was high school. The work was easy, and the consequences for procrastination were few. I came to the (in my mind) logical conclusion that doing next to zero work and getting Bs seemed to make more sense than working my butt off and getting As. For all four years of high school, I did no more than about 48 hours of work total outside of school. I just didn't feel like I needed to.

During that time, my interest in calculators waned a little bit. I was still apt to spin up a TI-BASIC game or program on a whim, but I had accumulated enough other hobbies (and more importantly, friends) that it just wasn't as prominent in my life as it was in middle school. I stopped reading books as heavily, and started playing video games much more during my leisure time. I was involved with band, theater, and cross country, so my leisure time during the latter half of high school wasn't actually all that much. I purchased many more calculators, and grew immediately fond of my Voyage 200 and its sophisticated operating system. I bought a TI-Nspire CX-II CAS and a TI-83 Premium CE Edition Python which carried me through the math portions of my SAT and ACT respectively. I got incredibly high scores on both the SAT and the ACT, both of which were quite at odds with my 3.2 (weighted) GPA.

I felt more or less infallible. I recognized that my work ethic wasn't where it needed to be, but it was high school, right? I had loads of time to figure it out. After all, I was super smart, wasn't I? I was sure that I had an ace up my sleeve, somewhere, somehow. That one day I'd just find the thing that I'm a genius at and it would carry me to success. My egotism got the better of me.

COVID shot the second semester of my senior year to bits. It cut off my track season before I broke 5:00 in the mile and cancelled prom (I wouldn't have gone anyway, let's be honest). However, it did save me from a catastrophic failure of my AP Literature class. The county school board decided to resort to a pass/fail system for the remainder of the school year, and effectively decided not to count any assignments missed during quarantine against you. Naturally, I did absolutely nothing during quarantine in high school and coasted to an easy pass.

I had never experienced failure

It was time to apply to college. That's what you do, right? You go to college and get a degree. That's what both my parents had done, and their parents before them. College was expected of me. My parents were both engineers, and I genuinely was very interested in the field myself. For any college I applied to, I applied to some sort of engineering program. I applied to quite a few colleges all over the east coast, including NC State, USC, U of Rochester, App State, FSU, and Georgia Tech. All for engineering. I lived closest to NC State and was really hoping to go there, but I would have also loved to go to Georgia Tech, as that's where both of my parents had gone and they loved it. With my 1580 SAT and 3.2 GPA, neither of those were happening, especially in engineering. I was denied from NC State and Georgia Tech relatively quickly and accepted into the rest. Bummer. I hadn't seriously considered where I was going to go if not State, so I applied on a whim to UNC Charlotte for Computer Engineering because a friend of mine was doing the same. I got in, and accepted. It didn't seem like a bad school, and it was only a couple of hours from home. It felt like the logical choice.

Rewind to junior year of high school. It's about that time where parents (and even more, friends of your parents) start asking you questions about where you're planning on going to college, what you want to do when you grow up, etc. I hadn't honestly considered those questions very carefully until one weekend, my whole family and my grandparents took a short trip up to DC as a little vacation. One of the stops along the way was Norfolk, Virginia, where we visited Naval Station Norfolk and toured some old battleship and an aircraft carrier. I was hooked. I had never seen Top Gun, but I knew at that moment what I wanted to do. I wanted to fly planes off of boats. It seemed like the coolest thing one could possibly do. Getting paid by the government to live on a giant floating city, launching yourself at several Gs off of a launchpad on top of that city into the air.

As soon as we got back I got myself enrolled in the local chapter of the US Naval Sea Cadet Corps, a JROTC-like organization that provided high school age kids tons of opportunities to put their toes in the water of the Navy before deciding to enlist. I was late to the party compared to my peers (most people started the program their freshman year, but I took to it very quickly. I thrived in the discipline and structure that the military offered. There was a very specific and well-defined set of rules and expectations I was to follow and I followed them well. I graduated the JROTC bootcamp at the top of my class and was ranking up within the program quite quickly for the short time I was in it. I felt like I finally found something I could succeed in. Something that would finally coax the good work ethic out of me, like nothing had before. My sights were dead set on being a military pilot.

One day I will fly a plane

So, when I accepted my enrollment to UNC Charlotte, I immediately looked into UNCC's ROTC program. At the suggestion of my mother, I signed up for the Air Force ROTC program instead of Army. (I had originally planned to go Army and cross-commission into the Navy, but she suggested that I just go Air Force instead if what I wanted to do was fly planes.) My first semester at UNC Charlotte began, though it wasn't anything like your typical college freshman year. Quarantine wasn't over, so all my classes were online. Even ROTC, which was interesting. About halfway through the semester, ROTC started partially meeting in-person, so I moved into a dorm with a friend of mine also in Computer Engineering. Like me, he had a pretty bad GPA in high school and got in on stellar test scores.

That first year was the worst academic year I had ever experienced. I finished the year with under a 2.0 GPA, having yet to adjust to the lack of leniency that I was used to in high school. With everything due online, due dates were extremely final. If I didn't turn something in by exactly 11:59 PM on the day that it was due, I was getting a 0 on it, no question about it. This threw a wrench in my normal strategy of procrastination. If an assignment took an hour to do and I started it at 10:58, I got a 100. If an assignment took an hour to do and I started at 11:20, I either got a 60 if I managed to turn it in on time, or a zero if I missed the deadline. Without in person classes, my sleep schedule quickly became incredibly awful. Sometimes I would become so nocturnal I would go to bed as soon as it was light out and wake up at midnight. Sometimes I would just switch to a 36 hour circadian rhythm, not really waking up or going to sleep at any regular time every day. My grades suffered, and so did my roommates. Without parents as allowing as mine, they pulled him out of college. He's now working at Target planning to get a web dev job.

My time in quarantine was sad. Zoom calls are not conducive to meeting new people, so I sat around on my own a lot. I did what little social interaction was required by my ROTC detachment and not much more, even as it became more in person. My hobbies consisted of a lot of video games and the occasional Python project, but nothing to the grandeur and scale of what I did in high school. I looked at my life and I was sad. I saw stagnation. I didn't feel anymore like I had an ace up my sleeve. I wasn't the smartest guy in the room anymore, I was just another nobody floundering around trying to make it in university. I was 18, an adult. I was past the age of impressing people with my prodigious knowledge of math and science. None of that mattered anymore. And I couldn't get myself to do the work.

Summer came along, and my GPA sucked. I took a few classes in the summer semester to replace the grades I had failed in the year before and pad out my GPA, it worked, but it came with a cost. Being in ROTC alone does not guarantee your commissioning. You not only have to be a good cadet, you have to have good grades, specifically by the end of your sophomore year. I spoke with my commanding officer, where we agreed that my grades were not up to snuff. He warned me that going engineering would be hard in addition to ROTC, but I told him the same thing I've told everyone when it comes to my bad grades, and it's always been true. I don't have an issue with the material, I just can't get myself to do the work. He offered me a way I could continue in the program and still have a chance at being a pilot. He would wind the clock back a year, and let me restart the ROTC program as a freshman. I would still be a sophomore in the eyes of the university, but I'd restart the ROTC program. This would give me more time to bring my GPA up, and give me an extra year so I don't have to cram so many classes in to graduate on time. I took it gladly. I wasn't ready to give up my dream of being a pilot. After my summer semester, I had brought my GPA up to a 2.3. I needed well over a 3.0 in order to do what I wanted to do in the Air Force.


Today is the last day that I can turn things in for the Fall Semester at UNC Charlotte. Here are my current grades:
AERO 1101: 96% - A (ROTC class)
PHYS 2012L: 58% - F
AERO 1100: 97% - A (ROTC as well)
ECGR 2111: 48% - F
ECGR 2155: 48% - F
ECGR 2181: 81% - B
MATH 2171: 36% - F
PHYS 2102: 56% - F
UCOL 1300: 90% - A


This winter break will not be restful.

This is the end of the road for me in higher education, and certainly for ROTC. I already used my mulligan. I don't know how I got here. I look back on myself in 8th grade, that bright young kid who could do anything and turned in all his work, and wonder how I fell so low. There's nothing I do now that I couldn't have done 6 years ago. I'm not some genius "gifted" kid who'd going to do great things one day. I am literally just a failure. I am utterly incapable of doing anything that is good for me. I spent the back half of this semester watching everything crash and burn and doing nothing about it. Nothing. I knew exactly what was coming. I knew exactly what the consequences were, and I knew that I didn't want those consequences to happen. And yet I sat there, doing utterly nothing. Immune to all feeling. As I watched myself approach, and pass, the event horizon of failure I had been slowly getting pulled toward for the past decade.

I deserve no pity and no charity. I brought this upon myself with my own astounding egotism. If you're in high school, thinking you're better and smarter than everyone because you know how to use a command line, take a good hard look at yourself and think about what's really important. And don't end up like me. I never felt what it was like to fail, so I never knew what it was like to work. To be desperate. I saved my failure for when it really mattered. I spent 10 years hurtling toward destruction just for it to happen at the least opportune time possible.

I just pray my two younger brothers will not befall the same fate.

I have passed the Event Horizon of Failure
Thanks for sharing your experience. I could see a lot of parallels with myself in that story. I think that feeling of being above average in high school and then considerably less-so in college is probably just due to people not going to college or quickly dropping out (perhaps the ones that struggled in high school). Leaving only the top X% to compete agaisnt eachother in college. In my case, I also didn't do too well in college initially but I switched programs after 2 semesters. Not only was the 2nd program (Computer Science) more relevant to me but I also had a smaller workload because I had already accumulated some credits from my "flop year" in Pure Sciences (which was really just a catch-all for people who didn't want to get some random general/arts degree but also had no idea what they wanted to do). Doing extra semesters might not be a possibility in the US though since the system is... different.
My grades in CS were MUCH better and I didn't really have a hard time getting work done on time and absorbing the material. I guess I struggled a bit towards the end but I just kinda grinded it out by not sleeping and trying real hard lol. I never had to do remote courses though since this was pre-covid. I can imagine trying to focus on courses at home being very challenging.
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Oof Sad

I had some similarities, but I had the privilege of aiming for mediocrity, and boy I tell ya, I frickin nailed it XD

I also had a breeze through grade school, then college kicked my butt, and it wasn't because of the material, I just don't have the discipline. Same thing as you; why work hard for an A when no effort gets you a B? And then that tactic didn't work as well in college Razz I had a rough first year (1.0 GPA), did better my second, then fell in to a groove where my last two years were better.

But the big difference is it sounds like you have a LOT more on your plate and probably have a lot more pressure to succeed. I had the privilege of small aspirations and the early realization that, yeah, I was academically gifted, but that was pretty much all I had going for me. I was surrounded by people who were academically average or below average, but far more capable than me.

Good luck and try not to beat yourself up (too much) about it Smile
For me, the pandemic started in the end of 6th grade. If my district didn't "COVID-weigh" the assignments, I would've gotten like a 20% F. Along with my depression, I didn't care at all about my grades. I still have a lot of trouble in middle school. I understand the material, but I couldn't get myself to do the hard work.

Since 3rd grade, I had a large interest in math. This later translated to computer programming, and I got a TI-84 Plus CE for Algebra in 6th grade. I was like others when they get one of those, just doing graphs and quick calculations. My curiosity sparked when I started coding in TI-Basic. I wanted to get a Raspberry Pi 4 when it came out. One month later, it came. I was using it nonstop. I loved it.

It turned into a cycle of wanting to use it and not. Cue October this year. I used my Pi, as well as this science model thing, as an excuse to code. I used a breadboard, but I fried the Pi. Fortunately, it was after the project was done. I am waiting for Christmas to get a replacement.

Right now, I have an A in Honors Geometry. I was able to keep it above 100%. Today, a meh test grade brought it down to a 99.8%. I was annoyed. This was the one grade I wanted to keep as high as possible.

I'll add on to this later, school is happening.
a, that sucks. :/ To be honest I found the gap between high school and college to be incredibly large where I live. In high school I averaged around 1-2 hours of homework per week and most didn't count in your grades and remained unchecked and you usually had enough time to finish them at school during dinner break or something.

Then in college it was 30 hours of homework, studying and working on projects per week and that was during a small week, because at the end of the semester it could get worse. I personally couldn't handle the high workload from multimedia integration and web programming held me back significantly so I eventually dropped out. What didn't help also is that back in the days there were zero student programs by Microsoft or other companies where students get free licenses of softwares such as Photoshop and Illustrator, so even if I had a decent computer at home to work on my school projects back then, then I would have needed to spend thousands of dollars on computer softwares or pirate them at the risk of infecting my computer with viruses and losing my school work. In addition to that I would probably have ended up with the wrong software versions so I would no longer be able to edit my projects at school on the older software installs.

At first, I thought that my lack of a degree resulted into higher exposure to criminal or otherwise innapropriate behavior from co-workers due to having generally different hobbies than everyone else that worked there, but then the Activision-Blizzard matter happened so I guess a degree doesn't matter...
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