Today’s lesson is based on my journey through the minefield of getting a college degree. The timing of this article is fortuitous because the fall semester has just begun and all those freshmen are currently going buck wild with their newfound freedom. My fervent hope is that these tidbits of advice will help this young generation to steer clear of some of the pitfalls and realize that, while worth the effort, the path to your own sheepskin is fraught with danger.

I actually breezed through high school with relative ease. The only glitches I remember were relatively minor ones. There was one trivial incident with the school principal, who also doubled as my girlfriend’s father. That fact alone was problematic as you can imagine, but the situation became intolerable when a misguided teacher sent me to the great man’s office for a breach of classroom etiquette. My punishment was one that might be considered unconventional. I don’t remember the exact words but it went something like this: “You are a little heathen and henceforth through the remainder of eternity are forbidden to date my daughter.” At least I didn’t get a beating, which was the standard operating procedure in those days.

The other episode of my high school career was academic and revolved around chemistry, biology and trigonometry (aka Algebra I to the 10th power). Despite the best efforts of Mrs. Foy, Mrs. Ridgeway and Miss Quillian, I could not grasp the basic concepts of those topics and was doomed to failure. Out of the goodness of their hearts, I received a final mark of 70 in all three classes but with an asterisk. To this day I’m the only student from Morgan County who has an asterisk beside grades in their permanent record.

Those two things aside, my burning desire to go to college persisted. That yearning was not fueled by any deep-seated craving for knowledge (which I learned, later on, was the object of the exercise) but rather on the fact that I wanted to play basketball.

As things turned out my college attendance hung precariously in the balance and there were three major hurdles to overcome in order for me to actually start university life. They were, in order:

1.My military service number was a very impressive “6,” which was closely akin to a first-round draft pick in the NFL. It basically meant that I would be called to duty very soon. (Vietnam was the culprit).

2.The aforementioned grade issue — specifically chemistry, trigonometry and biology. I was quite proficient in spelling, history, and was a virtual whiz-bang in physical education but my counselors told me that those subjects didn’t cut much ice with college administrators.

3.I wasn’t a very good basketball player. 

Luckily, Uncle Sam’s call to arms was put on hold as the war in Vietnam was winding down and I found a college that would admit me and my asterisk riddled grades and let me tote water for the basketball team.

So off I went into the great unknown.

My first college experience was with a gray-haired gent they called an advisor. He took one look at my record and then either had a coughing spasm or was suppressing a fit of laughter. He then promptly assigned me to chemistry, biology and College Algebra (which I later learned was Algebra I to the 100th power). I bargained with him for spelling, badminton, and art but he said they were all filled up. (Tip No. 1: Get an advisor that will give you the classes you want.)

My academic assault on the Big Three was about as successful as the Nazi’s assault on Stalingrad and nearly as bloody. Nevertheless, I was able to post three “D’s” with no asterisk attached and I was off and running toward a degree.

Things got better as I adjusted to the scholarly life and I started piling up the credit hours. The only hiccup from that point was another “D” — this time in a course called Community Recreation. They tricked me with the name. I thought it was about shooting pool and bellying up to the poker table but such was not the case. (Tip No. 2: Be sure to research the class content before signing up.)

I’m sure you won’t believe this but for the last few years of my college life I posted a 4.0 grade point average annually (2.0 the first semester and 2.0 the second semester) and went on to academic glory in the form of a degree. (Thank the laude.) 

I highly recommend college for what a young man can gain in the areas of high-level knowledge, overcoming adversity and the mental toughness one gains through the minefields of such courses as chemistry, biology, and algebra. (Tip No. 3: Don’t take any of those courses even if you have to change advisors.)

If you are considering college I don’t want you to think I’m painting a bleak picture of drudgery — there’s time for fun too but I won’t go into that here. You’ll figure it out. I’ll just say that the beer was good, the classes were often optional and the cheerleaders liked basketball players and just leave it at that. (Tip No. 4: Make sure that you schedule lightly in the spring semester.)

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