I went to college quite by accident.
My early South Florida education during the 1970s suffered from the turmoil that ensued desegregation. While I am in favor of desegregation, the process was not a smooth transition. Some of my teachers took advantage of the mayhem to become glorified babysitters. I did not protest. I mean what sixth grader would not enjoy spending every day of the school year on the playground with no tests or homework? But with subsequently large voids in my knowledge base my learning success in the middle and high grades was unimpressive and sporadic. My GPA was below average at best. I was not on track to graduate and I did not even care. My job at a local grocery store, a surf board in the back of my '68 convertible Volkswagen, and a guitar on my lap, assured me that life was good without any concern for my future.
But suddenly, at a time well past anyone's hope of my educational redemption, a brief glance at a friend's college class catalog laying open on his school desk shot a surprising rush of adrenaline to my heart. The boldly printed word "salesmanship" became the catalyst that forever changed my desire for learning.
I thought that being a salesman in a music store would be the best job imaginable, but they were surely not going to hire an immature high school drop out with few skills. But I might stand a slim chance if I could take a course in salesmanship. Now my problem was how to get into that golden high achiever's class. It was at the local community college that was starting a new program called, "duel enrollment" for high achievers and I was on track to flunk out of high school.
Previously, I had spent time with the counselor where she suggested that I become a truck driver because they did not require any education. Now I was standing in front of her in nervous turmoil over how to sell my idea to her. She said, "Yes, Chuck. What are you here for. Did you get suspended again?" Taken back a little with my now apparent steep uphill climb, I sheepishly whimpered out that I wanted to do that "duty rolling class thingy." Humored, she jerked her head back so hard that the spring in her captain's chair nearly popped. "You aren't even passing your classes in high school, probably not even going to make it to graduation! How do you think that you could pass a college level course? Wagging her head as she focused down to inspect the spring under her seat, she asked with an inquisitive and slightly disturbed expression in her eyes, "I'm just curious. Where did this come from? I mean, what're you thinking?"
I thought, "Oh, wow! Here's the crack in the vault door that seemed already bolted and sealed shut. Aiming straight and steady was paramount if I stood any chance at success here." I countered her doubting tone with, "I just thought that if I could pass a class in salesmanship then maybe I could get a job at Music Mart selling instruments. I think that would be the best job in the whole world. I mean to be around musicians and all those instruments every day. I'd get the chance to learn how to play different ones and make some money too. 'Cause, ya know they wouldn't hire me like I am now, dropping out of school and all that..."
I noticed a slight weather change in her demeanor. A small ray of sunshine began to wiggle its way through the dark clouds of her opposition. She sternly barked, "YOU BETTER NOT MAKE A FOOL OUT OF ME!" I rushed forward to get her signature while assuring her with the most genuine and affirmative promises I could muster without crossing the "you're patronizing me" line. Then I got myself out of there before she had the chance to recant.
I do not know if my success in her office was because of my excellent impromptu presentation or that she was simply desperate in 1980 to find students who would try this new program of students' "attending college while still in high school" to meet some quota, or maybe it was pity or maybe that she saw a spark of hope for this heretofore low achiever.
I studied harder for that course than any time before and was doing very well, a previously unfamiliar emotion for me to experience in a classroom. It was as uncomfortable as the perceived fear of sitting there in only my underwear, but too afraid to look down to see if it was true. Then apparently to challenge the other students, the professor announced that the young man in the back of the room was still in high school and was getting a higher grade in her class than some of them. They looked at me in amazement, but I was too intimidated to interact with anyone. I decided that for my best chance at success my final project should be to sell something to the class of which I was knowledgeable. To defeat stage fright, I chose to bring my electric guitar and amplifier. My presentation went well, but everyone seemed more interested in hearing me play than in my sales pitch.
I do not ever remember meeting my guidance counselor again, but I have to imagine that she smiled while leaning back in her creaking captain's chair, approving my report card as I returned to graduate high school in May as the "A" I earned in that salesmanship course scored me enough points to overcome my previously disappointing GPA.
After all that drama, I never did apply for that job, but I was now in college!