Only God Gives A’s

“Only God Gives A’s,” Ensign, Mar. 1988, 55–56

“Only God Gives A’s”

An institute instructor once told me that college students generally receive higher grades after completing a mission. I believed him. But that was before my mission—before I returned to college and attended an English class.

Since I was an English major, the most important class of the semester was “Analysis of Literary Forms.” I needed straight A’s in the final three years of college in order to be accepted by a law school I hoped to attend. Unfortunately, the professor of the class was on a personal crusade to combat grade inflation.

Adding to my anxiety was the professor’s anti-religious cynicism. On the first day of class he boasted that his greatest accomplishment had been flunking a member of a religious order for cheating. Before long I realized that I was the only Mormon in a class full of agnostics.

Our first assignment was an analysis of a short story. I spent two weeks brainstorming, outlining, writing, and rewriting until I felt assured of an A. When my paper was returned, I was sickened to see the grade was a C.

I approached the professor after class and asked what was required in order to receive an A. He responded with a sneer, “Only God gives A’s.” Seeing that I wasn’t amused, he explained that he would award an A only if he felt the paper was worthy of publication. My grade on the next assignment was critical. This time we had only one week in which to analyze a novel, and the professor couldn’t have picked a worse week. Monday night was a special family home evening. I spent Tuesday night completing my home teaching. On Wednesday, I was assigned to conduct a Young Adult activity. Thursday was quarterly stake priesthood meeting, and I had been asked to speak. On Friday I showed a friend from the mission field the sights of southern California. Saturday, I did yardwork for an incapacitated family. That evening, I attended a baptism and confirmation of a close friend.

I had done absolutely nothing on the paper when Sunday arrived. The paper was due Monday morning. Since it was fast Sunday, I had no commitments that afternoon or evening. I was tempted to do my homework, rationalizing that I had been doing the Lord’s work the rest of the week. This was a good example of the ox in the mire, I thought. Then I remembered that I had promised Heavenly Father that I would never do schoolwork on the Sabbath. Since I had made that personal promise to the Lord, I called upon him for strength to keep my promise.

When I awakened Monday morning, only a couple of hours remained until the deadline. I spent half of the time brainstorming and the other half typing a single draft. I had no time for an outline, revision, or corrections.

I handed in the essay, fully expecting to fail the assignment. But I had done the best I could do and still keep my promise to the Lord.

When I entered class a week later, the essays were stacked on the professor’s desk. As usual, he waited until the end of class to return them. This time I was willing to wait, especially since I had no desire ever to see my paper again.

The class came to a close. The professor picked up the papers. Instead of hurriedly passing them down the rows, he just stood there, looking down at the stack. Then he began flipping through the pages of the paper on top. He slowly lifted his eyes to look at the class, hesitated for a moment, and said softly, “Class, I suppose I have a reputation for being a hard grader. Well, I want you to know that today, for the first time in my teaching career, I have awarded a student an A-plus.” It was my paper.

Perhaps the professor was right after all when he said, “Only God gives A’s.”

  • Brett G. London, a deputy district attorney, is bishop of the Garden Grove Ninth Ward, Garden Grove California Stake.