27: Not College Material

27: Not College Material

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

Not College Material

Most of us, swimming against the tides of trouble the world knows nothing about, need only a bit of praise or encouragement— and we will make the goal.

~Jerome Fleishman

“You’re just not college material.”

The words were echoed by school advisors all my school years. Up to this point in our family history no one had attended college or university. But, my dad felt differently. “You are going to university,” he told me. He was determined that I would be the first one in our family to start a new generation that would have the opportunities that he did not have. So, in seventh grade when vocational guides were handed out outlining various tracks of study, I naively filled out the vocational guides that listed courses for the next six years that would prepare me for higher education.

“Son, you do not have what it takes to go to college,” I was told by my junior high counselor as they reviewed my course selection. I went home and told dad what the teacher had said.

“Sit down,” Dad said, “listen to me.”

I sat down.

“Yes, going to university is going to be hard.” Dad paused, struggling to find encouraging words. “Your mother and I can’t help you with academics because it is beyond our education. So you will have to work harder than other kids from educated families, but you can do it.”

Dad was right. I did have to work harder than other kids. In ninth grade algebra, my grades were not high enough to progress to tenth grade geometry. There was no option but to take summer school.

Throughout my high school years, there would be times I became very discouraged. However, my father was persistent. “Son, if you work hard you can go to university,” Dad kept up his firm encouragement. “You will have choices that neither I nor anyone in your family ever had. You can choose a career that each morning you wake up you look forward to going to work.”

Dad drove his point home several times by waking me up in the middle of the night to go to work with him. At the time, he drove a truckload of bread and delivered it to a town several hours north of where we lived.

“You want to do this for the rest of your life, than don’t study and don’t go to university,” he would say as we unloaded the large racks of bread. That was how intent Dad was on me being the first to graduate from university.

Discouraging words from my teachers continued through high school. However, I kept plugging along. Then, in eleventh grade chemistry I became overwhelmed with the course load. It was obvious that I had to work harder than the other kids in my class. My lunch hours were spent with my chemistry teacher. I found out that he was an amazing man. He was the only teacher who believed in me like my father believed in me.

One day he sensed my discouragement. He stopped tutoring and just talked. “Son,” he said. “I know you look at all the other kids and you get discouraged. However, you are different; you have something inside of you that they do not. You may have to work harder but you are going to succeed when many of them fail.”

Forty years later, I still remember his words. Along with the words of my father, those words kept me from giving up. He was the only teacher who had that faith in me.

In twelfth grade I told my English teacher that I was preparing to go to university and needed a foreign language.

“For you English is a foreign language,” she said looking at me in disbelief.

I graduated from high school and decided to go to the local community college instead of straight to university. It was true that my ACT scores in math and science were in the 90th percentile. However, my English was not good enough to get into college level English. So I took a remedial course. Due to an amazing biology teacher in tenth grade, my goal was to major in the life sciences.

In the end, my Dad and high school chemistry teacher were right. I was college material. The hard work paid off. I went from taking ninth grade algebra in summer school to getting a B+ in college calculus. I also received As in two university chemistry courses. Sure there were times during those college years that I would call my father and say “I quit.” However, he would not let me give up. Finally, with my father and grandfather cheering in the crowd, I graduated from the University of Idaho with a major in bacteriology and medical technology. More importantly, I had the honor of being the first in my family to graduate from an institute of higher education. My own son will graduate from university this year. But my hard work did not stop there. I have since earned a Master’s degree in counseling. Not bad for a person who “was not college material.” Dad’s lectures spoke louder. His midnight trips to work were not forgotten. The encouragement of my high school chemistry professor was not in vain. I was college material after all.

~Dennis Hixson

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