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WHAT WOULD YOU DO WITH A BRAIN IF YOU HAD ONE?

24 January 2003

I heard about a woman today who, at age 50, has given up her job and returned to school to get her teaching credential. She feels she has not accomplished what she wanted to in her life and wants to make something of herself before it's too late.

It's time to come clean about my educational experience. This is my "coming out" year and it's time to add education to the list. I've already come out as a compulsive overeater. Hi, My name's Bev. I'm a college dropout.

It's a little more complicated than just being a college dropout. It's a whole saga.

I was always in the top 5% of my grammar school class. I was also fiercely competitive and really tried so hard to crack the top slot, but never did. When the top girls in my graduating class chose their high schools, I opted for a different school--they went to Presentation High; I went to St. Vincent's. St. Vincent's had been known throughout San Francisco as the best business school in the city and had recently added a college prep track to its curriculum. It was also a very small school, not nearly as threatening as the larger Presentation.

I quickly became identified as one of the smarter kids. It wasn't really that it was so important to me, but I had struck out on my own and made it on my own out of the shadow of my grammar school rivals. I was college bound, though without a sense of direction--I didn't know what I wanted to be. However I did love the business courses, and I loved languages. I was always good at picking up foreign languages.

Somewhere toward the end of my junior year or beginning of my senior year, I decided I was going to enter the convent. There was hell to pay at home. My father hit the ceiling (and probably anything else in sight). My mother, bless her, came to my defense, calmed him down (over several weeks), and he reluctantly gave his permission for me to enter the convent.

Well, that never happened. My entrance date was set for September 13, 1960. Over the summer I had begun to assemble my "trousseau," of all the black clothes and other things that one takes when one enters the convent. By this time I knew I had made a mistake and I felt trapped. I didn't know how to get out of it and so I was just going to go ahead and do it rather than speak out and admit that I had made a terrible mistake.

But then my friend, teacher, and first big crush of my life, Sister Anne, came to visit. The nuns asked her to meet with me and find out how serious I really was. At the end of our visit, she gently suggested that I postpone my entrance. Secretly I was ecstatic. Like I'd been given a reprieve. It was suggested that I work for the school for six months and think about whether or not I really wanted to enter the convent. In the end, we all decided that I was not convent material and I sold my trousseau to someone who really wanted to become a nun.

My father heard the news with some smug satisfaction: I had proved him right. I wasn't cut out to be a nun.

I announced that I wanted to take a year off, get a job, and think about what I was going to do with the rest of my life.

"NO!" my father said, emphatically. "I did it your way, now you're going to do it MY way. If you go to work, you'll never go to college." Then he laid out the plan for the rest of my life: I would go to UC Berkeley, and I would be a teacher. "It's a cushy job," he told me. "You only work half a day and you get summers off." (I can hear the teachers reading this choking already!)

I didn't know that I wanted to go to Berkeley, and I knew for a fact that I hated teaching, but he was adamant. I would be the first person on either side of the family to attend college. He himself had flunked out of San Francisco State and by god his daughter was going to get a degree!

And so I applied and was accepted at UC Berkeley. In those days it was a lot easier to get in. I also had good grades and a good SAT score and was admitted without difficulty.

The problem was that I entered mid-year. Having taken six months off to think about the convent, I was entering in February. The problem with this was that all the freshmen had entered together in September and the university didn't have orientation for mid-year incoming freshmen (or if they did, I didn't know about it). I was a babe in the woods, and since my father had not gone to college either, he had no advice for me.  I was dropped at my dorm and it was assumed that I'd know what to do.

My high school's entire population, four years of students, was 250 kids. I had classes that were larger than that at Berkeley. I was in over my head from day #1. I didn't know the system. I didn't know the terminology. And I had never learned how to study. I was so incredibly ill-prepared to become a university student.

Somehow I limped through my first semester, barely passing all of my classes (except French, which I did well in). I was hating it, and I spent most of my time socializing at the Newman Center.

Things totally fell apart in my second semester. I happened to get a history class with a professor who took a shine to me and would hit on me before class every day. I never told anyone and had no idea that I could report him. Instead I just stopped going to class entirely.

I had never received an F in my life and, as I have always viewed life in blacks and whites, felt I had totally screwed up my college career. If I received one F, I might as well admit that I'd failed college. I think I passed some of my classes that semester, but my grade point was a disaster.

In my third semester, I stopped going to class entirely. I just lied about it. I spent my days working (as a secretary) for the Newman Center, and at the end of the year, I sent myself postcards with phony grades on them. I already knew that I was giving up, so what difference did it make.

I will never forget the day I quit school. Well--I can sort of remember it. I felt so awful about myself and I got snockered. I probably was full of gin when I staggered into the dean's office and quit. I can't remember what she looked like, and I don't remember leaving the office, but that was the end of my college career. I was down 65 grade points and I knew I could never make it up.

It has taken me decades to come to grips with my disasterous brief college career. I live in a college town. I'm a fairly intelligent person and most of the people I met were associated with the university here and just assumed that I had at least a Bachelor's, if not an advanced degree. I kept my dirty little secret and felt bad about myself.

It got worse when I began doing psychological reports and realized how many people of significantly less intelligence than I (that sounds pompous, but it's just true) had struggled to get their degrees--and had succeeded. And here I sat working at a non-"career" job, earning just slightly above minimum wage (but actually enjoying what I was doing).

Through the years I have toyed with the idea of going back to school and getting a degree, but I finally came to the realization that even though it would be nice to have the experience of having a degree, I'm actually happy with myself. It doesn't embarrass me any more to admit that I flunked out of college gloriously. I have no aspiration of a degree-based career (at 60 it's a bit too late to start a career, don't you think?).

I so very much admire this woman who is taking her life in her own hands and getting her degree. But I'm finally OK being able to admit that I have no degree, and that I will never have a degree.

Quote of the Day

If we listened to our intellect, we'd never have a love affair. We'd never have a friendship. We'd never go into business, because we'd be cynical. Well, that's nonsense. You've got to jump off cliffs all the time and build your wings on the way down.

~ Ray Bradbury

Yesterday's Photo

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One Year Ago
It's Hard to Type with Frozen Fingers
I try to type and my fingers are so icy that I just can't do it. I'm sitting here now huddled in a sweater, a jacket, and with a crocheted lap blanket tucked around me. Even if my hands get warm, the keyboard is like ice, so that doesn't help either.

(it hasn't changed much in a year!)

Two Years Ago
Singing and Driving in the Rain
It may be "torture" for Walt, but I generally have Steve on in the car, singing along with the familiar tunes. He keeps me awake on long drives.


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Pounds Lost:  76
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On the Odometer

URL 733
Blue Angel 562.2

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Created 1/23/03

 

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