Capstone Paper by David Beerman

My junior year, AP Computer Science became both my favorite and my least favorite class I’d taken to date. I found it more interesting than just about anything I had taken before, and I loved that it was so new and exciting. It was like learning a new language and applying critical thinking at the same time. But that was also why, along with how hard it was, that I got so fed up with it that I almost dropped out.
      At first,  it wasn’t that difficult: a lot of vocabulary and math and syntax at first, which was relatively interesting, plus Mrs. Lawrence, our teacher, was great. Five of my friends were learning alongside me; we had a tiny class of six which allowed us to have a lot of fun while we learned.
      But as the weeks passed, I had to put more and more effort into homework and studying. Nothing out of the ordinary—classes almost always get harder as they progress. But Comp-Sci was different. I had to practice logic problems while learning a new language, and put the two together, and it became the most difficult class I had ever taken—and it never backed down. How the hell can I make this work? It won’t even compile, how am I supposed to figure out how to fix it? Mrs. Lawrence helped a lot, but there came a point where she had to sit back and let me figure things out. The training wheels were off.
      My first failing grade came in the form of a lab. Two nights before it was due, I was staring at the black and blue words in JCreator, the compiler, waiting for it to load and tell me it worked. But “process completed” would not show itself to me. I saw error after error after error, so I opened my email and told Mrs. Lawrence about the problems I was having. I just could not figure out how to fix my code. Then, once I finally got my code to compile, I ran into even more problems. My syntax was sound, but the white-on-black words of the terminal showed me nothing but error messages. My code’s logic was flawed. Most of the points come from successfully solving the problem and having a functioning program, but I couldn’t make that happen.
      I worked on it the rest of the night, and the night after that, but I just couldn’t fix it. I went into class the next day and emailed Mrs. Lawrence the file, telling myself, Maybe it will work on her computer. Maybe mine just isn’t able to run it properly. But no: it was just bad code. When I got my grade back the next day, my stomach twisted and my heart stopped; it was a D. Mom and Dad are going to kill me.
      Mrs. Lawrence met with me the day after to go over the problems with my code and how to fix it, but my confidence was still crushed. I went in for help more and more as the year went on, and was immensely glad I did. Each time, I  felt a little more sure of what I was doing. I continued to work as hard as I could on the projects and preparing for the tests, and occasionally I got great grades; but far too often, I still couldn’t get my code up to standard. I’d get Cs and Ds and even Fs on labs and tests amid the As and Bs, and by the end of the first semester, I had a C plus in the class and was contemplating dropping it.
      But my parents were more understanding than usual, and they urged me to  drop it only if I felt absolutely sure I couldn’t succeed in the class in the next semester. Mrs. Lawrence, however, told me she had faith that I could stay afloat in the class, continue to improve, and even do well on the AP exam. I wasn’t so sure, but I decided to continue.
      Luckily, the material for the second semester wasn’t as hard; I had more time to practice everything we learned during the first semester, and there was more time to apply the concepts. I was struggling to keep even a B minus, but I became determined to succeed. As the semester progressed, I got more good grades than bad ones, I needed less help overall, and I put my skills to better use.
The day for the AP exam arrived; I walked into the exam room and began. This is really easy! Am I completely off-base? I’m probably just getting it all wrong; it can’t be this easy.
The day we got our grades is all a blur--butterflies in my stomach and sweat on my hands and  “Wait, what?” coming out of my mouth.
A four.
      A four?! It wasn’t real. They made a mistake. But no, they didn’t, thank the gods.
      All those sleepless, stress-filled nights were worth it. The bad grades on tests and quizzes and labs, all completely, totally worth it. Though her class was the most difficult I’d ever taken, Mrs. Lawrence prepared me to do well. Her help, and the time and effort I spent doing as well as I could,  got me through. Sometimes it takes some failing to make it.
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