A few years ago I decided to go back to school as a full-time student, and even though my experience wasn’t quite as eventful as Thornton Melon’s, Rodney Dangerfield’s character in the timeless movie, Back to School, it certainly did have its moments. In actuality, I was not going back to college but rather I was experiencing higher learning for the first time since graduating high school many, many years ago. I had this crazy notion I could just get in and get out in four years, earn some sort of Degree, and then start making lots of money. My objective was to begin with two years of community college and then transfer to one of the Arizona State University campuses, besides the one my son was already attending, so I could also graduate as a Sun Devil. I already had visualized celebrating my accomplishment by getting a tattoo of the school’s mascot, Sparky, with the anticipated year of my graduation (2013) scrolled across the icon’s chest.
Because my high school days were ancient history (my transcripts had most likely disintegrated by now) I was forced to take a placement exam to see where I was at academically. I would then know the appropriate class levels to begin at which would enable me to start my college career. The results showed I excelled in all areas except math. What? I know how to add, subtract, divide, multiply, and figure percentages. I also knew how to calculate my batting average when I played baseball, and I do my own taxes for crying out loud. I’ve always prided myself on being both creative and analytical unlike most people who tend to be either one or the other. Maybe my mother has been wrong all these years and I’m not that special after all. No, that can’t be it. I still believe I am both a creative and an analytical person, and I’m positive I do know basic math very well, but algebra is a whole different monster.
I think my initial experience of trying to learn the awful subject when I was in 9th grade was a contributing factor to the inevitable downfall of my college career. In the “good old days” high school consisted of only grades 10-12, so the freshmen in junior high were obviously the “top dogs” which was quite fitting for my school since we were the Berg Bulldogs. One full year of algebra, during that time, was the only math class required to earn a high school diploma. The luck of the draw gave me Miss Dralle as my algebra teacher. She was a first year teacher and fresh out of college. She was somewhat of a looker, especially for a math teacher, and I suppose many of us guys even considered her to be a fox. For my younger readers that translates into being hot!
Miss Dralle may have been a decent teacher, but at the very least she was a total distraction. She was thin, very cute, and had brown feathered hair, and who didn’t love feathered hair back then, but she was also a bit timid and easy to take advantage of sometimes. One day in class I noticed an open window, and I was smart enough to put two and two together. When we were suppose to be solving algebraic equations at our desk, and when Miss Dralle was not looking, I escaped out the window just to have some fun. What is it with me and windows anyway? I strolled around the building, walked back into the school, and then re-entered the classroom through the door. Miss Dralle questioned my whereabouts but not too seriously since each student was allowed to sharpen their pencils across the hall with her permission. I didn’t have her permission this time, of course, but that was a fairly forgivable offense. My great escape was exhilarating, but the best part was hearing the laughs and giggles from my peers as I walked through the door.
Although I barely passed the one and only algebra class, imperative for completing high school, I now thought for sure I’d have an easier time of it since I was a mature adult striving for something better in life. Unfortunately, that was not the case in my situation. Let’s be honest here – the majority of people on this planet will never ever need to even once use algebra in their entire lives. Anyway, I eased into college life by enrolling in a summer class, at Glendale Community College, a couple of months before the fall term was to begin. I decided to start with a required speech class, Interpersonal Communication, just to get it over with because I absolutely despised the one semester of speech class I had to endure in high school. My former teacher was adequate enough and the class wasn’t all that difficult, but I did have an immense fear of public speaking back then. After utterly disliking my first experience, of presenting a speech in public, I refused to give any of the mandatory remaining speeches in front of my classmates for the remainder of the term.
As much as I disliked public speaking I really didn’t mind the preparation, so I was always prepared on time. However, my dry mouth, sweaty palms, and trembling body prevented me from ever volunteering to go first, and when I finally was the only student left to participate I would then shamefully decline. My teacher was kind enough to eventually allow me to present the assignments in front of her, and only her, either before or after school. That was barely, but thankfully, enough to pass the class. As a somewhat mature adult, going back to school with a sense of purpose, I was able to overcome my fear of public speaking although still to this day I enjoy it just about as much as eating broccoli or visiting the dentist.
The first assignment of my Interpersonal Communication class was to pair up and learn as much as possible about the other person, in a short amount of time, and then give a five minute speech introducing that person to the rest of the class. My chosen partner was Myron Begay (boy, I could’ve had some fun with that name if I wasn’t somewhat of a mature adult), and my initial short speech was a complete success. Myron was of Indian descent, so weeks later when I read in the local newspaper about an Indian tribe member who was receiving an award, and his last name was Begay, I assumed he must be a relative of Myron’s, so I clipped out the article and presented it to him the next day at school. Myron thanked me but admitted he did not know the man in the story. He then went on to inform me that the name Begay to Indians is as common as the name Smith is to Americans. I guess I was receiving quite the education at the community college.
Another student I sat next to in my college speech class and enjoyed being around was named Cody. I could tell from the first day of class he must have been one of those popular kids back in high school. He was funny, good-looking, had an athletic build, and nothing seemed to bother him. My suspicions were confirmed when shortly thereafter I noticed him conversing with the most popular girl in our class, Brittany, on a daily basis. I felt like I was holding my own, not unlike Mr. Melon from the classic movie, and fitting in nicely with the youngsters when one day Cody declared to the entire class, “James is the coolest old guy I know.” Ouch! Overall, attending a year of college later in life was a great experience. I even finished with a perfect grade point average (thanks to dropping algebra). I learned how to cram an enormous amount of worthless information into my brain, for tests and final exams, only to forget most of it the very next day. I also learned Chuck Berry probably would’ve been crowned the “King of Rock ‘n Roll” instead of Elvis if not for U.S. racial tensions during that era. Now there’s some information I’ll probably never have to use again…sort of like algebra.