From the Blog

How I Graduated from Harvard, Part One

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I don’t usually come out and tell people I graduated from Harvard. I feel like there’s whole big long story to tell. I’m aware that people hear the name “Harvard” and often draw immediate conclusions. They might think I’m smarter than average, that my parents were wealthy, that I belong to some sort of elite upper crust, or I’m just lucky. None of those things are especially true, except the lucky part. I would say that I am lucky. But maybe not for the reasons that occur in a quick, snap judgment.

First of all, it should be known that I was a shitty student. From the very beginning. Even when very young, when I sat in a classroom of peers, listening to a teacher, it became apparent that I was not going to be a good student. I was agreeable, I was eager to please, I think I understood what was going on, but somehow I just didn’t get the whole classroom concept. I wonder if it was as foreign to other kids that we had to “raise our hands” before speaking. It grated on me.

I realize now, that speaking in turn is part of being a fully functional adult in an orderly society. But that raising the hand thing just felt unnatural. Lo and behold, I’m still a rather, um, aggressive conversationalist. I choose to view it as an asset, but that was not the case when I was five years old and trying to learn how not to be a monkey.

I think I just didn’t like being told what to do. Again, I was agreeable and I don’t remember being disruptive. But I do remember quietly not doing what I was told. It got worse when I reached elementary school levels that required homework. I didn’t do homework. Maybe I didn’t get it, or I wasn’t learning as fast as other kids. I could have just been lazy. The possibility that I was just simply lazy has caused me work ethic guilt ever since.

My teachers tried various tactics to get me to work harder, from gold stars to public shame. I was prone to embarrassment and I hated the teachers that used humiliation as a motivator. They became adversaries. There was not a chance I’d work hard for them. I did poorly on tests. I continued not to do homework. I was awkward socially.

That essentially, was my entire elementary school and high school experience. My parents were endlessly baffled. I’m still a bit stymied myself. I think I was almost held back a couple times. I wasn’t dumb. There were indicators that I was actually really smart. I have theorized that maybe I didn’t learn in the same way as other kids. Maybe I was bored. I was great in art and writing. I was interested in science in a broad sort of way. I didn’t mind math when I could figure it out, but it didn’t come naturally. I understood what they were saying, but that whole classroom thing and raising my hand didn’t work that great for me.

I did graduate high school. Because my grades were mediocre, my options for college were not so great. I would have loved to go away to school, but I don’t think I bothered applying out of fear of rejection. I went to a local community college within driving distance from my parents’ house. I was jealous of the kids who got to move away to go to school.

I did slightly better in college than high school. It did me a world of good to take classes with new people who hadn’t known me since elementary school. It meant I was no longer followed by the communal memory of my awkwardness. I was still plenty awkward without being reminded of how awkward I used to be.

I also had a financial stake in my classes, as my parents made me pay for half of my education. My grades were better, but were never great. I worked local jobs and got my associates degree in liberal arts. I transferred to a state school away from home, but for just one semester. I had been looking forward to getting out of the house for a long time. But I didn’t really like my experience at the state school. By then, I was almost twenty one and itching to move to Boston.

I ended the semester, and went to Arizona for the summer to work at the Grand Canyon Lodge on the North Rim. I’ve related that story here, here and here. I came back from that summer and immediately got a crappy retail job and an apartment in a run down neighborhood near Boston. At that time, I had no plans to go back to school.

Sound like Harvard material to you?

Part Two.

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