My Greatest Failure Pushed Me to Even Greater Success
“Even if you got a 100%, you would still not have enough points from your final exam to pass this class. The level of your coursework in my class has been unsatisfactory. You are going to FAIL my class, Kavian.” I sat there reading through this email, completely emotionless. I already knew what the outcome would be. I didn’t need to send an email asking Dr. Palmer if I was going to get a passing grade in this class, if I did well on the final exam. My fate in my Intro Chemical Engineering class was sealed weeks ago and it was the culmination of the worst semester of school in my entire life.
During this semester I had failed Chemical Engineering, withdrew from Organic Chemistry too late resulting in another failing grade, and received a D and a C in Statistics and Economics, respectively. This led to me having a 0.62 GPA for the Spring 2013 semester. For someone who was over 500 miles away from home this had resulted in a perfect storm of self-doubt, uncertainty, and loneliness.
Growing up, things had always been so easy for me academically. I was frequently showered with praise from teachers, coaches, family, and friends for my academic achievements. But things changed once I entered college. I realized that I NEVER learned how to study, and I rested on my natural gifts to succeed. As a result, I became a very content and lazy student. Sure, I accomplished a lot at Benjamin E. Mays High School; Vice President of my class in Student Government, lettered in football, track and swimming, excelled in several AP classes and even received college credit for courses taken at Atlanta Metropolitan Community College. Despite all this, I had never been in a position where I failed at something and I believe there are very important life lessons that come from failure.
In addition to my study habits, I believe that my status as a first-generation college student was weighing heavily on me. My family structure wasn’t the greatest. I was raised by my grandmother; my mother had been in prison for drug charges for much of my adolescence and my father never played an active role in my life. Despite all of this, I always felt like I had a strong support system. But there were just things that I could not rely on my grandmother to help me with while in college. Being a college student was something she had never experienced and therefore couldn’t give me advice on.
Reading Dr. Palmer’s email and having such a bad semester set me back in a major way. I didn’t get the credits I needed so I graduated 2 years after most student in my class. I attended Ohio State on a scholarship that covered four years, so those additional two years cost over $70,000 in student loans. But if I could redo this moment in my life I wouldn’t change a single detail (that $70,000 would look really nice in my bank account though). These lessons that I learned during this ordeal prepared me for so much more.
Dr. Palmer lit a fire under me that I never had, and I realized something in me needed to change. From that point forward, I leaned on my college support system more and used the resources that were available to me. These included Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., the Bell National Resource Center on the African American Male, and Ohio State Athletic Director Gene Smith. They gave me a team comprised of both peers and mentors who were all black men (and some women) that could relate to my life experiences and could guide me in the right direction. These institutions and people helped to build me up and grow as a young man and scholar.
By the end of my college matriculation, I was able to graduate with my Bachelor of Science in Biological Engineering, study abroad in Costa Rica, Brazil, China, and Ghana, and win several awards from the Office of Student Life including outstanding chapter president for my work with Kappa Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha. I’ll leave you with a quote that got me through this tough time. Robert F. Kennedy once said, “Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.” I would undoubtedly say that the spring semester of 2013 was a truly amazing failure!
Some advice for current/future college students:
-PRACTICE MINDFULNESS AND BE SELFISH: College is going to be challenging and take a lot out of you. Remember to take care of yourself and reward yourself for your accomplishments, no matter how big or small
-MAKE FRIENDS: Once piece of advice that I remember from my freshman orientation in 2010 was to not go home every weekend and make sure I connected with my peers. Although I was 500+ miles away and it was impossible to get home every weekend I internalized the essence of that advice. Make sure you’re opening up to new experiences and new relationships. Your friends in college are also a resource. They help you to unwind, they’re your study partners, and they’ll be the people you remember once those college days swiftly pass.
-USE YOUR RESOURCES: Universities are built to help young adults navigate life. There are people there who are hired to guide you in the right directions. There are all sorts of counseling, tutors, gyms, museums, other extracurriculars, and OFFICE HOURS. These are provided to you through the university. Take advantage of them, you’re likely paying for it regardless of if you use them or not.
Kavian Anderson-Spells is a native of Atlanta, Ga. In 2010 he received his High School Diploma from Benjamin E. Mays High School. Afterwards, he obtained his Bachelor of Science degree in Biological Engineering from The Ohio State University in 2016. Currently, he works in Buffalo, NY as a Process Engineer for the J.M Smucker Company. In this role, Kavian’s responsibilities includes improving existing technology, troubleshooting major problems, and implementing cost-saving measures.
Kavian Educational History:
2010 - HS Graduate, Atlanta Public Schools
2016 - BS in biological engineering, The Ohio State University
Connect with Kavian:
Kavian Anderson-Spells (LinkedIn)
Kavian Anderson-Spells (Facebook)