Thursday, June 2, 2016

An Unpleasant College Memory

Here’s the prompt: A college memory.

I spent my first two years of college at a school I knew from the outset I didn’t want to attend, but did because my mother, who wanted me to be an engineer, insisted on it. See, engineering requires physics, and although I passed it in high school, I didn’t have the aptitude for it, and didn’t especially like it. She still insisted on the school, no doubt hoping I’d see the light and change my mind about engineering. I entered with the intention of being a math major, because my grandfather was a math professor at another university, and it was the only thing I saw in the catalog that I was interested in.

Toward the end of my first year, I saw a flyer for a program where, if accepted, I could earn my bachelor’s and master’s in math in four years. By this time, I was starting to think that maybe math wasn’t the major for me, but I applied for the program anyway. When it came time to register for my second year, I took the classes that they said I would have to take for the combined degree, including — you guessed it — physics. When I learned in July that I hadn’t been accepted into the program, I could have, and should have, made up my mind to revamp my schedule at my earliest opportunity and replace physics and at least one of the math classes (maybe both) with classes toward my requirements, with the idea that I’d start looking for another major.

Could have, should have… but didn’t. I was stubborn: even if I hadn’t gotten into the BS/MS program, I was going to take the classes just to spite them. I spent the better part of the quarter totally confused by the math classes, and after the first exam in physics (on which I got the worst grade in the class), I stopped going to class altogether. Didn’t drop the class, just stopped going. Out of sight, out of mind.

Two weeks before the end of the quarter, I realized I would still have to take a physics exam. As you might expect, I did even worse on this one. The professor, God love him, asked to see me, and the first thing he said was “I thought you dropped the class. Why didn’t you?”

Of course! Drop the class! That would have made everything better. Problem was, I had missed the deadline to drop the class without repercussions. So I was stuck. He told me that, if I did very well on the final, I could maybe get a D. Not the best, but I had gotten a few D’s already; one more wouldn’t kill me.

On the long walk back to the student center, I took inventory of where I was and realized that I might flunk everything that quarter. The only class I was doing well enough was a philosophy class that I had switched to pass/fail because I had gotten an F on my first paper. That prof had warned us all that he considered a D average a fail, but I had just brought it up to a C minus, so I figured I’d be all right.

Now I was mad at everyone, mostly myself, and fed up with going to school, and decided I’d go home and tell my mother I was dropping out. That’s when I ran into Judy, a classmate, and told her what I was thinking of doing. She said, “John, before you do that, why not go talk to one of the counselors? There are a bunch of them, and they’re really nice and probably can help you sort things out.” After the obligatory hemming and hawing, I decided that was a good idea. I thanked Judy, who kissed me on the cheek, gave me a hug, and said “Everything will be all right, John.”

After meeting with Helen, one of the counselors, I knew how I’d tell my mother that I was on the verge of flunking out of school. Mom chewed me out when I told her, but it could have been worse. I studied and took the exams, and when the quarter report cards came out, I had two C’s in the math classes, a D in physics (I think he took pity on me), and a Pass in the philosophy class. Not great, but I hadn’t done that well in previous quarters, either, so that was par. Helen continued to help me figure out what I wanted to do in college, and wasn’t too terribly upset when I realized I couldn’t get the degree I wanted where I was and would have to transfer.

I transferred to the second university at the end of the year, and the rest, as they say, is history.

In case you’re wondering, I had a class with Judy the next quarter. It might have turned into a full-blown relationship, but we were both involved with other people, and I never saw her again. That’s life at a big university.

from The Sound of One Hand Typing

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