9: Class Act for a Major Clown

9: Class Act for a Major Clown

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Teens Talk Getting In...To College

Class Act for a Major Clown

It takes a long time to bring excellence to maturity.

~Publilius Syrus

My son strutted proudly from his third grade classroom side-by-side with his teacher. “I’m going to the Air Force Academy,” Dan announced in such a cocky tone, it caught me off guard. Then he confidently added, “Someday, I’ll fly jets.”

“Oh, good!” Mrs. Brent commented as she flashed me a grin.

Because he was only eight years old, neither of us took him seriously.

But the kid was serious! As he got older, he became more determined. So, my husband, John, began doing research on what it would take for Dan to be considered by the Air Force Academy. Dan would only need to have near perfect grades and be a sports hero, a community service leader, a polished public speaker, an Eagle Scout, an officer in his class at school, and receive a Congressional nomination. Easy? Not for most kids, but especially not for Dan.

He was very intelligent. But he thought school was a time for recreation... not a time for learning. He spent his days entertaining the other kids by clowning around.

The teachers at Dan’s small Christian school were constantly frustrated by his carelessness about class work. His actual intelligence wasn’t reflected in his mediocre grades. Dan didn’t see the need to get class work in on time, write down assignments, or do homework.

By the time our son advanced to middle school, John and I were tearing out our hair trying to convince this brilliant child he couldn’t make it into the Academy without hard work. We tried everything, but the kid was oblivious to our suggestions.

When Dan transitioned to the high school level, his English teacher was a young woman who’d assisted in his fifth grade class. She knew our son all too well. Though Mrs. Harris had to confess there were times Dan’s antics had her breaking into laughter, she’d been exasperated for years with his attitude toward schoolwork. So, after Dan had joked his way through fall quarter of freshman English, Mrs. Harris gave him an “F” in the class. Because of missed assignments and late papers, it was the grade he deserved.

“No-o-o-o!” Dan cried when he saw his grade. “I can’t get an F. I have to get perfect grades. I’m going to the Air Force Academy!” But he had a great deal of respect for Mrs. Harris, so he didn’t argue with his teacher. Instead, the class clown suddenly got serious.

The change in Dan was shocking! He made up for the “F” by retaking English during summer school. After that, his grades became nearly perfect. He began excelling in tennis. He went through the scouting program from “Cub” to “Eagle” in an unprecedented eighteen months! Dan took on pubic speaking by becoming the Master of Ceremonies at many high school functions. Because of his keen sense of humor, he made every event fun. Finally, he was elected senior class president. In that last year of high school, John and I were overwhelmed by the multitude of honors and accolades Dan received for school performance and community service.

As high school graduation neared, we watched in stunned silence as our local congressmen and senator fought over the opportunity to nominate Dan as the ideal candidate for the Air Force Academy. Then, six weeks after high school graduation, John and I waved a tearful farewell as our son departed for Colorado Springs to begin his basic cadet training at the Academy.

While it was hard to let go of our son, for years we’d watched Dan’s dreams become reality as God led Dan away from his undisciplined habits. God had even assigned one stubborn teacher to point Dan in the right direction. Thank God for Mrs. Harris!

According to Dan, God is the reason he not only made it to the Academy, but the reason he made it through their grueling four year program, through flight school, through deployments to two wars, and beyond.

Our son’s commanding officers now say he ranks among “the best of the best,” though you’d never know it to meet Dan. He’s just a humble guy, still clowning around whenever he can get away with it.

On a recent training exercise in Roswell, New Mexico, he bought a three-foot tall, fluorescent green, inflatable alien, whom he named “Dave.” Dan strapped Dave into the passenger seat of his rental car and took the alien everywhere with him—a simple gesture to keep his guys laughing during their difficult training sessions.

At a recent promotion ceremony, I had the honor of pinning Dan with the designations marking him as a major in the United States Air Force. Interestingly, the official event took place on Halloween. The officer who conducted the “pinning” ceremony began by saying, “The only thing scarier than this being Halloween, is Dan becoming a major!” The entire crowd roared with laughter... well, except for Dave the alien. He just sat in the third row taking it all in through his giant, alien eyes.

~Laura L. Bradford

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