Sunday, November 17, 2013
My First Lesson at College
In late August of 1982, I made the four hour drive from my rural hometown (population 5,000) to Statesboro, GA to begin my freshman year at what was then Georgia Southern College - now Georgia Southern University. This was an exciting time that I had anticipated for years - making my break from the watching eyes of a small town, the rule of my parents, and being on my own. I had managed to coast through high school tossing my books in my locker at the end of the day and going fishing on the Flint River or hunting in the woods of South Georgia instead of studying course materials. Being the first in my family, I did not have the advise of anyone in the family of what to expect in the college experience. And, even if I had, I am sure I would have blew it off. Looking back, I can remember my high school guidance counselor cautioning me that I would need to take my college classes more seriously than I had my high school coursework, but I had heard the same advise before going into high school.
Arriving at Georgia Southern was a wonderful experience. In 1982, Southern had its largest freshmen class of its history at the time - 5,000 incoming students. The girl to guy ratio was three to one, and I was determined to find my three. I sat through my classes, and then embarked on finding any and every social activity that was happening. I was having the time of my life. There were gorgeous girls everywhere and always something going on somewhere around the campus.
By the end of the first quarter, I knew I was in trouble but figured I would pull it out by the skin of my teeth like I had always done in high school. But it was not the case. Instead, I garnered an amazing 0.66 grade point average. When I went home for the holidays, my Dad gave me a brief but pointed talk. If I did not start making passing grades, he would cut-off the finances, and I could come home and drive nails. Upon returning to Southern in January, I received an invitation to meet the Dean of the Business School. He and the Assistant Dean played a 15 minute game of "Good Cop/Bad Cop" with the Dean telling me I was about to flunk out of school and the Assistant Dean telling me that I could do this if I applied myself. A few days after this delightful exchange, I received a letter in the mail informing me that my placement exams indicated that I needed Remedial Math and Remedial Composition. Surprising news since I had just flunked a Math and Composition class.
A struggle for survival ensued. I was not sure what I wanted to do for a career, but I was darn certain I did not want to roof house and perform general construction. Applying myself to coursework that did not interest me was painful, but somehow I learned how to study and how to prepare. Unfortunately, during my Sophomore year while still on Academic Probation from the results of my first quarter, one of my professors turned in our grades late. The school computed my grades as if I had made a zero in the class, and the school's computer system suspended me and dropped all of my classes scheduled for the following quarter. I discovered this grand news over the holiday break at home. After several phone calls to the Assistant Dean who had become my assigned Success Counselor, the grades finally got turned in and my status was restored. But they could not or would not reschedule my classes and informed me I would have to try to pick them up in late registration. In my frustration, I informed them that if that was how they were going to treat me after how I had struggled to make the grades and get my GPA up, I would just quit. My last words with the Assistant Dean was that I was never coming back. He suggested I be careful saying what I would never do.
I returned to the campus following Christmas with a U-haul trailer, loaded my possessions and said to hell with college and watched Statesboro get smaller in my rear view mirror. my game plan was to apply for a position with the Georgia State Patrol. I submitted my application and learned I would have to wait until an exam date became available. In the meantime, I began applying for jobs. I quickly discovered that there was not a great market for a high school graduate. After a couple of months, my Dad convinced a manager in Albany to hire me part-time at a Nursery/Landscaping operation. My part-time job began averaging 72 hours a week. I had Tuesdays off. Needless to say, there is not a lot one can do on Tuesdays when everyone your age is either at work or in school.
After three months, I returned to Southern with a renewed interest in obtaining a college education and a higher level of motivation. I did not make the Dean's List and I did not graduate with honors. But, in August 1986, I walked across the stage in the Hanner Fieldhouse in a cap and gown and a pair of Justin cowboy boots and accepted my Bachelors of Business Administration. I learned a great deal in the four years I spent at Southern. Much of what I learned was not in a text book or in a professor's lecture. I learned that I could accomplish anything that I put my mind to and that partial commitment would provide less than ideal results. If I wanted something of real value, I needed to genuinely invest in it or not bother.
Two years ago, I returned to school to acquire my MBA. While the work involved was difficult and the amount of time I had to invest was significant, I graduated with honors - something I am sure would give pause to the former Dean of the Business School at Georgia Southern. The major difference in my Graduate School experience and my Undergraduate experience can be summed up as perspective and dedication. Looking back, I wonder how different my experience at Georgia Southern in the mid 1980's would have been if I had applied the same dedication and devotion.
My late Grandfather used to tell me that if a job was worth doing, it was worth doing well. Unfortunately for me, I had to learn that lesson the hard way. But thankfully, I learned from it and have grown from it. Have you ever failed at something simply because you were partially committed?