Making the Grade: Seven Characters Who Forged Their Own Path and Still Slayed

If there’s one thing young people know all too well, it’s that for some the Summer break can be a glorious expanse of fun times and chill vibes while for others it can feel like an infinite stretch of time, tarnished by nail-chomping nerves. Whether it’s enduring those anxious butterflies of the back-to-school blues or dealing with the stress of exam results, Summertime isn’t always a huge ray of sunshine (especially not in Britain!).

But here’s the thing: How you do in school and the results you receive for the time you spent there don’t define who you are or what you’re capable of. Standardised testing isn’t the precise barometer for your future that people make it out to be. The future is yours and yours alone, and no grade can change that.

If you’re in desperate need for some tv bingewatching goodness to help affirm that fact, then there’s plenty of plotlines and characters that you can look to for inspiration. These are characters who followed their own path, defined their own future, and completely flourished for it. Some of these characters did amazing in school, while others found their intelligence, skills, and talents thrived outside the traditional measures of academia. All of them, regardless, chose to follow their own instincts and came out golden.

1. Jess Mariano: Gilmore Girls (Netflix)

Across season 2 and 3 of the screwball-comedy-family-drama Gilmore Girls, Jess (Milo Ventimgilia) is the troubled underdog of Stars Hollow. He’s a punk and a troublemaker with a nose for mischief, a disruptive home life, and a fine taste in literature. He’s also doing terribly in school. So much so, that by the time he chooses to abandon Stars Hollow for California, he’s basically flunking out despite the fact that he, and near enough everyone that knows him, understands that he’s one of the smartest people there. He simply can’t apply his skills or intelligence to the demands of academia. Fast forward a few seasons, however, and Jess is doing better than okay. Not only is he a published author, he’s also found fulfilling employment within an independent publishing house - a job that he still maintains and is passionate about when we see him again in the Netflix limited series A Year in the Life.

2. Hermione Granger: Harry Potter

Look, for such a prestigious school, Hogwarts sported a lot of dropouts. And none of them did too badly for it (looking at you Fred and George Weasley! Make that golden joke shop money, boys!). But we’ll take any and every opportunity to reminder y’all that Hermione Granger - she of the humongous smarts, obsessive perfectionism, and studious nature - left school without any NEWTs and still became Minister for Magic! LIKE A BOSS.

3. Damon Richards-Evangelista: Pose (BBC i-Player)

In the pilot episode of Ryan Murphy’s groundbreaking LGBT positive show, we see Damon (Ryan Jamaal Swain) - a queer African American man - get dealt one of the most difficult hands any teenager can take: After finding out his sexual identity, Damon is kicked out by his parents and made homeless. Obviously, this disrupts his educational opportunities and his path to achieving his ambition of becoming a professional dancer. However, with the help of his newfound, chosen family (the House of Evangelista), he doesn’t give up on his dreams. Despite missing the application deadline, he nonetheless shows up to audition for his dream school regardless and absolutely smashes it and continues to sharpen his skills and find deeper purpose as part of New York City’s ballroom scene.

4. Veronica Mars: Veronica Mars

Veronica (Kristen Bell) might be one of the smartest, fiercest, and most fascinatingly flawed female characters ever put on TV. Throughout the original run of the series, she’s shown aceing school despite hustling some private investigations (and taking down some seriously bad men) on the side. And though the 2014 movie shows her obtaining a law degree and interviewing for a position at a prestigious law firm, she instead chooses to return to the side hustle she so loved as a teenager: Being a private investigator. Crucially, Veronica realises that she values helping her community and taking a real stand against corruption more than she does continuing on with the academic path she’s forged where she’d be pursuing an unsatisfying life of empty wealth and power.

5. Bruce Wayne: The Dark Knight Trilogy (Netflix)

Though the Bruce Wayne of the comics has a law degree from Yale, the dark knight of Chris Nolan’s beloved cinematic trilogy (Christian Bale) is a college dropout, ditching his Princeton education in freshman year to become a vigilante in a rubber suit bringing justice to his hometown - as you do. Obviously, the character has the ridiculous privilege of an everlasting inheritance and a multi-billion dollar enterprise to help him out with that but still. The guy stands for something and he chose to forge his own path to make that happen.

6. Buffy Summers: Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Amazon Prime)

Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) already had a lot on her plate throughout school - what with the whole saving-the-world-from-the-monster-of-the-week thing. But her education took a further backseat following the death of her mother, when she became the prime carer of her younger sister, Dawn. It meant that for a while, Buffy was holding donw full-time employment while maintaining her Slayer duties and wasn’t exactly feeling fulfilled by life (being dragged out of heaven will really do that to a girl). However, by the final season Buffy finds real purpose as the new Guidance Counsellor of her former school, and as the leader of an entire squadron of young women she helps to empower as the next generation of Slayers. Exam results couldn’t help her save the world, but her instincts, intelligence, experience, and compassion definitely could - in supernatural and everyday ways.

7. Wesley Crusher: Star Trek: The Next Generation (Netflix)

Look, people give Wesley (Wil Wheaton) a hard time, but at the end of the day he was just a teenage boy trying to find his place in the world while surrounded by a bunch of grumpy Starfleet officers telling him they’re bigger and better than he is (groan). Captain Picard's protégé was on the path for ‘greatness’ at the Starfleet Academy, before becoming disillusioned with the elite and high-pressure nature of it. Instead of staying the course, Wesley chose to follow his own path and realised that there was more value to him in gaining practical, rather than academic, experience of his passions instead.