I have to say I don't understand your logic there. So you want people who struggled with the core CS material, and just barely managed to graduate by working harder than average over the people who were good enough to be able to skate through? I understand that you want someone who is willing to work hard for the company, but you want that hard work to actually produce something too. There are far too many people out there with CS degrees that can't keep up. I'd rather have the one who slacked off a bit in college because the coursework was too easy and boring to them, than five people who struggled but worked hard to get a degree. As for the original post, in my experience, both personally and from conversations with other companies' hiring managers, after you have worked for 2-3 years beyond graduation, your grades mean nothing.
As for the rest of your post, you are correct that there is often a huge difference between working for a large company versus a small company. I have worked in both, and you're right, it is nice to have the flexibility (and power) of working at a smaller company, as it keeps things interesting, but the hours and budget can be frustrating (long hours, smaller/no budget for your projects). At a large company, it is just the opposite, it is no longer *my* department (though the management is very responsive to good ideas), but I don't get wake-up calls from users at 3 AM anymore, can actually take a vacation, and the department has a much larger budget. With the small company, design decisions often came down to "What do we already have that we can use for this?" for things like which database system to use, where with the larger company I'm at now, the question is "Which product is the best for what we need?" and if we don't have it, we buy it. A purchase that would have been more than my annual budget for the entire IT department at the small company is taken care of with a 20 minute meeting. Plus, salary negotiations are easier when your salary is less than a percent of the company's income.