Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Last Transcript

I graduated from the Ateneo de Manila University in March 2000, with a Bachelor of Sciences degree in Computer Science.

...At least, that's what my transcript of records implies. To be honest, it doesn't actually have a date of graduation printed on it; I requested for a copy about a month before I actually put on the toga and the plasterboard cap, and added a xeroxed version of my last grade report to fill in the blanks. I imagine that it was so that I could be prepared for the oncoming job search that plagues all new graduates.

Fast forward nine years later, and it turns out that I still have a copy of the transcript. I think I've had this photocopied and re-photocopied any number of times. It's even the original version, mind you, which means that it's discolored and stained with whatever the last decade has seen fit to throw at it.

To be honest, I'm not as proud of my grades as I am of the fact that I managed to survive college. Computer Science in my time was a complicated course, which meant that we left a lot of casualties by the roadside. If memory serves me correct, about forty of us future Computer Scientists met up with each other on orientation day... and of that number, only twenty-one of us actually walked out of the university with Computer Science diplomas clutched in our cold, dead fingers. That mortality rate's not something to be taken lightly, and I know more than my fair share of people who have either dropped the course or shifted out.

It wasn't just the Computer classes, of course. My university had a penchant for throwing each of its students into a variety of different classes, just so that we could emerge as well-rounded individuals. While we didn't get the benefit of, say, supreme concentration in a single chosen field, we got exposure to quite a few disciplines that either added something to our backgrounds or provided alternative directions to our education. Talk to an Ateneo graduate now, and you'll be surprised at how much stuff we know that wasn't part of our course.

With that said, I'm struck by the fact that you can draw a clear line drawn through my grades: I either did fairly well in a specific subject, or I crashed and burned to the point of mediocrity. I've never failed a single course and I only approached that threshold once — that tale, along with a few others, is noted below.

EN 11: Composition — A
EN 13: Introduction to Fiction — A

EN 26: Introduction to the Essay — A
EN 12: Rhetoric — B+

Yeah, you can tell that I was one of the really nasty writer-types in college. You're also probably wondering about how I managed to score that B+ for my last class.

You see, our final project for that last class involved writing a one-thousand-word composition on a given subject (mine was The Process of Fiction, predictably enough). I remember that it was rather easy for me — I took a certain viewpoint about fiction-writing and worked it into a short story, then took advantage of a pre-finals review and gave it to my professor for a few suggestions. We had a short discussion on his recommendations, and I left to make the changes that he had brought up.

After I submitted the final manuscript and he gave it back, I was surprised to find that it had gotten a lower grade. When I raised an eyebrow at that, my professor admitted (rather sheepishly) that "it looks like my suggestions made it worse." It gave me a good laugh, though — and it was enough for me to drop the matter and learn a good lesson from it.

FIL 11: The Art of Communication in Filipino I — C
FIL 12: The Art of Communication in Filipino II — C+
FIL 14: Survey of Philippine Literature — C+

In sharp contrast, I was terrible at my Filipino classes. I had the feeling that my professors here would probably cross to the other side of the corridor if they ever noticed me walking down the hall towards them.

It wasn't that I'm not very good at understanding poetry, prose and essay in what's supposed to be my native language, mind you... it was more because my skills in Tagalog are vastly underdeveloped compared to my skills in English. I remember going through Jose Rizal's Noli Me Tangere in Filipino and barely understanding half of the text, then going through the Soledad M. Reyes translation (for English speakers) and loving every bit of the novel. Yes, it was that bad.

MA 18A: Principles of Modern Mathematics I — Passed
MA 18B: Principles of Modern Mathematics II — Passed
MA 21: Mathematical Analysis I — B
MA 22: Mathematical Analysis II — C+
MA 101: Mathematical Analysis III — C
MA 122: Linear Algebra — C+
MA 151: Elementary Probability Theory — B

I can hear some of the audience collapsing in convulsions now. Don't worry — there's a few chairs in the next room, and you can stay there while I devote a few minutes to this topic.

There are seven courses on the list here, but I only actually went through the last five. I did sufficiently well enough on the college entrance exam that I was allowed to skip the first two courses.

The grades here may be a bit of a surprise when you consider how many math problems I doodle and solve on this blog. The reality, however, is that I find it difficult to remember formulae, much less entire collections of the stuff. This showed up quite easily in my final exams — particularly in my Probability class, where one misremembered variable led to me missing no less than four word problems there.

I still do math problems as a hobby, mind you, but you'll notice that I don't place as much focus on the formulae as I do on the interpretations. I try to put higher math in understandable real-world terms nowadays, if only because I don't think it's good to write stuff that other people can barely understand.

CS 195.O2: Special Topics: Computer-Aided Instruction — B

This was one of my favorite classes; It was an elective that discussed various learning theories and how software systems could approach this element of education. In short, it was a one-semester excuse to create various teaching aids and learning programs, and our sessions involved analyzing the effectiveness of existing material as well as exploring different theories on education. I used my final presentation to provide a nice dissertation on Edward de Bono's context-learning approach, which influences my take on literary criticism now.

CS 150: Computer Architecture — C

This one covered contemporary hardware structures, if I remember correctly, and it was a strange paradigm shift from all the classes on software theory. I'm still not very good at computer hardware, but I can at least talk turkey with the local computer stores. The strangest benefit that this class gave me, however, was the ability to fix certain hardware issues just by knowing where to hit the computer. Strange, but true.

CS 175: Introduction to Multimedia Systems — B
CS 195.O7: Advanced Multimedia — B

Over the course of two semesters, I learned how to handle Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Premiere, and 3D Studio MAX. (Macromedia Flash was still in its infancy back then, however, so I missed out on that.) The projects, however, were killer — especially when you realize that this was not the kind of software that we could install at home, so we spent long hours in the Computer Lab competing for space.

PS 141: Electronics I — D

I acquitted myself well in all my Physics classes — except for this one, which is the single lowest grade on my transcript. As much as I hate to say so, this was the worst class I've ever taken: the professor's lectures were difficult to follow, and her responses extremely obtuse. Our reference material changed on a regular basis: On one day she would ask us to look up a chapter in a certain book, and the next week she would ask us to check out a completely different one.

And if all that wasn't enough, the final exam had absolutely nothing to do with Electronics at all. It involved a tiny ten-item identification test, then a monstrous essay portion whose major entry asked us to "Write a poem of at least 800 words, which must have at least 600 words that are related to Physics." Even I can't do something with those specs, and I've made a lot of weird writings in my time.

A couple of years later, I would find out that my professor for that utter waste of time was a local award-winning physicist. That single revelation was a better lesson for me than any of the classes she taught.

HI 14: Medieval Civilization — B+

I'm fairly good at history, so my grades here aren't much of a surprise. My teacher for this class, however, turned out to be a budding opera student, and she promised that she would give us a performance if the majority of us came up with a high grade threshold for the final exams.

As you can probably surmise by the fact that I'm telling this story, we won that bet. So on the last day of class, we closed the windows and got treated to one hell of a rendition. I don't think that any of us stayed in touch with her after that, though, and sometimes I wonder if she ever got into actual performance.

HI 165: Rizal and the Emergence of the Philippine Nation — A

Jose Rizal's two novels were an integral part of this course, as you might expect. Should you have any lingering doubts about my ability to interpret Philippine literature, I must point out my grade here: I did rather well for my recitation, I submitted a treatise on Rizal and his perspective on religion based on his writings, and I pulled an A off the final exam despite being awarded an exemption from it.

TH 11: Man's Search for God — B
TH 21: The Church and Sacraments — B
TH 131: Marriage and Family Planning — B
TH 151: Seminar on Contemporary Theology — C+
TH 141: Contemporary Theological Problems I: Theology of Liberation — B

I don't have much of a fondness for Theology, and it doesn't have that much of a fondness for me. Two of my most interesting memories stem from Theology classes, though.

The first involves my practicum: five visits to the New Bilibid Prisons in Muntinlupa. The inmates were quite friendly, especially when you realize that I barely spoke an inch of Tagalog back then. Despite their demeanor, you could see what toll that prison life was taking on them: one of our visits had to be postponed because someone decided to have an attack of insanity and run around stabbing people with a kitchen knife. There was also an obvious contrast between the rich convicts (who got air-conditioned houses to themselves), and the poorer ones (who had to sleep about fifty in a cell designed for one.

The second involved a stray dog who was methodically beaten to death outside our classroom window by a couple of bare-shirted men. While my class looked on in horror, our professor (who until then was a saintly old woman who played the guitar and went on a retreat once every three months) got ticked off, and demanded that we pay attention to her instead of the dog. That was another lesson right there, I suppose.

JSP 101: Elementary Japanese Language I — B
JSP 102: Elementary Japanese Language II — C

Yes, I took up Japanese in college. And, oh yeah, am I rusty: Watashi wa nihon no gakusei des.

PE: Physical Education: Fencing — C+
PE: Physical Education: Advanced Fencing — B
PE: Physical Education: General Health — B
PE: Physical Education: Tai Chi — B

As this post has gone on for long enough, I'll close on my performance in Physical Education. I didn't get enough exercise then, and I still don't get enough exercise now. And to be fair, our Fencing instructor was indifferent at best — I don't think he even knew who the heck I was.

That said, though, looking back at this list of PE classes makes me wonder: Didn't the university offer Basketball, or Volleyball, or something? This list looks like something that I would make up completely. (And I wish I did.)


Tibibord said...

Weren't we exempted from En 11, the lowest-numbered English subject? Also, I think it's supposed to go, Watashi wa nihonggo no gakusei desu. You are rusty, heh.

kyutbabe said...

You didn't discuss your Philo grades :p

Sean said...

Tibibord: Hey, you're right! I can't believe I forgot that... but then, why isn't it noted in my transcript? Darn it, I was able to finish the English portion of the entrance exam, too...

Kyutbabe: I actually got this same question on my Multiply account — and the answer is "I got a B, B, B, and C, respectively." My teachers were impressed at my rigorous arguments, but always wondered how long it would take for me to get to the point. :)

Multipurpose101/Multiverse101 said...
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