By Jason Cox
“I’m sorry, but I’m going to have to give you a C.”
This certainly wasn’t the first time my graphic design professor had to deliver this revelation to one of his less industrious students. Some must have been dismayed. I was thrilled that a C was on the table at all.
offered good points in class discussion, but only went to this twice-a-week class about twice a month. Class projects were wholeheartedly half-assed . I was graduating that semester and completing a practicum in the Tennessee capitol’s press room, and couldn’t
be bothered with anything beyond the bare requirements.
This was a microcosm of a spotty-at-best academic career. Basically if I was interested in the subject (or had a friend in class) I showed up and almost always got an A. If not, it all depended on the professor’s nonsense tolerance. A few would give you an A for just limping across the finish line. Another berated me and called me ridiculous, then called back just to reiterate her point.
were like this design professor: Empathetic to a young student who really just needed that C, yet possessed with enough dignity not to let me get away with an A or a B.
We’re all born with talents, and mine include two that make academic life a lot easier:
- The ability to write quickly and accurately, nurtured by school teachers like Mary Dennison and encouraged by my pal Anne Tucker, the first person to suggest I consider writing for a living. (That, ironically, came from another bullshitting exercise: I’d gotten a 5 out of 5 on a state standardized test on writing ability; my essay was about how bored I was with the test and how annoyed I was to put in the work.)
- A knack for multiple-choice tests.
method to my madness was understanding the syllabus and course rules, investing my spare time in career-boosting activities like the student newspaper, radio station and clubs, and making friends with people who take good notes.
the time, I thought I was pretty smart. Looking back now, I’m embarrassed.
it’s hard to quibble with where I’ve ended up. Aside from existential guilt, I paid no real price. I was the first in my family to graduate college. I write and think about communication for a living, which is more or less what I set out to do 18 years ago.
But the opportunities I’d missed in college gnawed at me.
changing careers from journalism to communications and looking into training programs, pursuing a master’s degree began looking more practical. You may be as shocked as I was when Purdue University accepted me into its master’s of science in communications
time would be different: I focused the competitive energy I’d channeled into my career towards academics, racking up A after A.
I hit a wall known as survey methods, aka stats. Math was never my strong suit. I threw myself into this class unlike anything I’d ever done academically. Overcoming a few mediocre grades, my classmate and I turned in an A-level research project.
comes the final grade.
highest grade you can get while still ruining your 4.0 GPA.
ultimate academic redemption was spoiled. I’d become the kid my design professor thought I was: at once livid, embarrassed and despondent. Too proud to beg, I laid in bed and stewed.
took a while to realize: An A-minus is still good! And at any rate, my redemption had never been about grades.
was about seizing opportunity — putting in the work to maximize my talents and make up ground where I fall short. It was about living up to the dreams of my mom and dad, who insisted I’d be the first in my family to go to college, even as their parents didn’t
provide the same expectations or encouragement.
up to Dr. Himebaugh’s Feature Writing class would have made me a stronger writer. That design class would have helped me better appreciate and understand good aesthetic principles. And that Ancient Political Philosophy Class was just plain fascinating.
were all opportunities for personal and professional growth. I did what was interesting or came easy, and left the rest by the wayside.
seemed plentiful or even infinite then, I now know, is indeed finite. Some of us get more opportunities than others, but the next one is never guaranteed. And I’m determined never to take them for granted again.
Jason Cox skipped Voices of August 2017 because he was too busy getting an A-minus in survey methods. He’s a public affairs specialist and posts boring tweets and quality retweets @jasonrcox. He lives in Salem, Oregon with wife Alana and baby daughter Cecelia.
Editor’s note: Jason is the husband of Alana Cox, a daughter of our longtime friends, Tom and Elsa Guiney. I’ve enjoyed watching his transitions in life: from community journalist to communications professional, and from single guy to husband and parent.
Tomorrow: Al Rodriguez | 3.5 Months To Go – Yes, I’m Counting