What Does “Smart” Really Mean?

Ever since I was in elementary school, I was always labeled as the “smart” kid – always getting high marks, always competing for the top spot in my class. At the time, and growing up, being considered “smart” was probably one of the highest praises anyone could give to you. Being a “smart” kid, you were practically invincible.

But what does it really mean to be “smart?”

Merriam-Webster gives three different definitions:
1. very good at learning or thinking about things
2. showing intelligence or good judgment
3. behaving or talking in a rude or impolite way; showing a lack of respect for someone

As a child, the stock definition of an intelligent person was someone who got good grades, and someone whose work was always displayed around the classroom with a giant gold star on it – all of which pertain to the second definition given by Merrian-Webster. This mindset continues to stick as people move onwards – when a student gets a C, that student is “average.” A student with a low GPA isn’t considered to be “top tier.” And God forbid an A student slip up and get a B – apparently that’s indication that the apocalypse is among us.

Even as a college student, I’ve discovered that a person’s major of study is what defines what kind of a student and what kind of a person they are. When I was an Engineering major, everyone’s first response upon learning my field of study was always something along the lines of “oh wow, you must be really smart.” Now that I’m a Math major, people’s responses haven’t changed, except some of my former classmates probably now view me as their inferior.

It has taken me such a long time to realize that my major, my school, and my grades do not define who I am as a person, and they certainly do not determine whether or not I am what society defines as “smart.” My GPA is not a measure of what I can accomplish. The grades that appear on transcripts and report cards are only indications of how easily someone can remember things, or in some cases, how easily someone can bullshit the system. Everyone is smart in their own way. If a person isn’t good at Math or Science, then that person is most likely good at other things that a Math or Science person don’t have the capacity to do – How many scientists do you know published a best-selling novel?

The preconceived idea of what a “smart” person should be has lowered the self-esteems of many, and has put so much pressure on kids to live up to, and oftentimes go beyond, what they need to aspire to be. I don’t really consider myself to be a “smart” person anymore, or at least not in the way society has defined it to be. I just really like to learn and think about things – and that shouldn’t separate me from everyone else.

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