My grandson recently got a D in high school chemistry, prompting dire warnings from his mother (my daughter) about his "permanent record." However, in 1975, I too got a D in high school chemistry, seemingly with no ill effects. Are high school transcripts permanent? Could that D yet come back to haunt me? —Andrew K.
Now that you mention it, Andrew, I'm pretty sure I got a D in high school chemistry as well. (You might want to keep that to yourself, though—no sense in providing your daughter with further evidence that folks like us inevitably grow up to be miserable, stunted husks.)
Ten years of my droning on about Kay Kyser and Metamucil has ensured that no one under the age of 50 reads this column, so we can be frank: One's "permanent record," like the bogeyman, Santa Claus and the law that "it's illegal to drive with the dome light on," is just another made-up thing we tell kids to get them to behave.
Fortunately, younger kids are quite gullible, because in real life literally anything you do before ninth grade—including murder, provided you can get your juvenile records expunged—might as well have never happened.
I have mentioned before that, due to a clerical error, I was admitted to and attended Reed College, where several of my classmates had failed and repeated whole grades in elementary school. When you're a kid, being left back sounds like a life-ruining harvest of shame—a one-way ticket to Palookaville, even—but it turns out it's no big deal.
One's high school record, however, does matter, if only for a moment: Someone will look at it when (if?) you're applying to college. Even then, though, one D isn't a problem unless it's part of a pattern suggesting you're lazy, stupid or both. And if you are those things, your life is screwed whether you get into that prestigious college or not. (Trust me on this one.)
Thus, by the time you graduate high school, it's highly likely no one will ever look at your high school transcript again. It's still around—by Oregon law, student records must be retained for 75 years—but because such records are confidential, the only way anyone is going to see it is if you yourself demand a copy. And even then, good luck getting anyone to look.