Part IV: He finally graduates (but nothing is ever simple)

When we last saw our protagonist**, he had managed to fail out of college and then beg his way back in by promising to immediately get his academic act in order.

Before proceeding one bit further, I need to talk about my long-suffering parents. Remember, I wasn’t just their only child, I was first-in-the-family to go to college (with parents who probably would’ve loved to have had the same chance they gave me).

Plus I was allegedly supposed to be pretty smart, too. I sure wasn’t showing it.

It wasn’t just the failing out. I was just damn difficult. We fought, a lot. It took a long time for it to get through my thick skull just how much I put them through in those days. Any way you look at it, they were both saints, and it horrifies me to recall just how self-centered I was.

Back then it was trendy to talk about how people needed to let go of all the guilt they’d been taught growing up. Bull. Guilt, for lack of a better word, is good. Guilt is right. Guilt works. Guilt clarifies, cuts through, and captures… when you ought to be behaving better than you are. I needed more of it, not less. I gradually got a clue, but it took way too long, and I needed to do a lot of growing up.

As a college senior, I did indeed buckle down, get to work, and get pretty good grades. Of course, I was now 15 credits behind. I handled this by taking 7 credits at Stony Brook the following summer session, and hitchhiking to Suffolk Community College at the same time to take another eight. I remember that daily hitchhike vividly — and acing a 4-credit course there in Accounting and another in Geology. So I graduated in August instead of May.

I still occasionally have nightmares that somehow those eight credits didn’t count or weren’t enough, and they’ll take my degree away from me. But, no, I really do have a Stony Brook diploma. Honest. I can show it to you.

There was, however, one little bump in the road that year…

calendar demo 1977

Well, OK, sure, I was there… but I only had a tiny little bit to do with organizing this. Sadly, when David covered this story for the student newspaper, I was the one he knew… so I was the one he quoted… so when the university got its court order demanding that we immediately leave the building or be held in contempt… well, it looked like this:

calendar court order 4

…and when the “Stony Brook 25” needed fundraising support for their defense in court, we looked like this:


Smiles aside, nobody can be untroubled by a court order with the State on the top and one’s own name on the bottom <grin>.

…Let’s just say that only one of us ultimately went to jail, and it wasn’t me. And he only wound up going for a few hours: pretty much just long enough for them to give him a haircut.

My senior year at Stony Brook did not end quite the way you might expect.

In August, as I was finally graduating, a job opening appeared: Executive Director of the self-same student government I’ve been telling you about. This individual reported to both the students and the administration, managed the office, and authorized checks for about $600,000 a year in student activities.

The students decided to hire me. The administration had to approve me. They did. I guess I must’ve earned some respect along the way.

I spent a very eventful 18 months in that job. But we can hold most of that for later. Enough already!

I do want to share just one lesson I learned walking into the exact same student government office where I’d practically lived, but suddenly carrying “official authority.”

It is possible to be in a superior position only because you are slightly older than the people around you — and you well know the only way you’re “better” than them is that by sheer chance you have a bit more experience. I “supervised” people I knew would become lawyers and doctors and leaders, and were quite probably both smarter and more competent than I was. That’s stuck with me whenever I’ve been tempted to pull rank on people younger than me.

Not that I’d ever do such a thing, of course! <grin>

Your turn, finally, Matt! Feel free to react, or change the subject, or ask for a question, or do whatever you’d like…


**I mean me, of course. But I’m still embarrassed to use the first person as I tell you about this.




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s