In a voice that was forceful if apologetic, a man from Fort Valley State University phoned me on Friday to let me know that I would not be attending his school in the fall.
I tried to pause the verdict as he read it as a judge delivering a condemned man’s sentence from the bench. I tried to offer an explanation again, but he spoke through me. He was going to run me over, and while I got the impression that he didn’t want to do this as much as I didn’t want him to, it was a thing that had to be done.
The decision was based on a GPA from 11 years ago, when I was extremely poor and desperate. But that humiliating figure remains an albatross too great to ignore. I guess all the guys who flunked out because they partied too much have given the rest of us a bad name.
Now, I find myself again in a very painful, lonely place. My face is pressed to the ceiling of life. I want to achieve more, but no one will consider me for anything other than what I’m doing now unless I have a degree. I will never be promoted, I will never be considered for another position within our without my company. I will be what I am now for as long as the powers that be will allow me. And then I will be cast out, a husk that no one will look at twice because of all the positions in my field for which a bachelor’s degree is requisite for consideration.
I asked if they would take me on a probationary basis. Let me prove that my miserable academic performance from all those years ago did not represent my capabilities. But no. I asked if that old GPA might eventually age-out — could I come back and apply again in five years? 10 years? — but it wouldn’t matter. They’d still request the same transcript and come to the same conclusion based on that antiquated metric. If the GPA were at least marginal they might be able to work something out, but the performance just wasn’t there. There were more deserving people to accept in their program. People who didn’t screw the pooch a decade ago.
It’s scary going through life on your intuition and instincts, operating in professional environments without the confidence that you gain (and others recognize) that comes with a college degree. All my life lessons and experience matters little. I still have to learn things the hard way — and I have a lot to learn. I have to figure out the things others were told. I’m a poseur. I don’t belong here. I’m stupid, and it’s only a matter of time before I’m found out.
I hoped my pursuit of a degree would enable me to make amends. I knew I would take time, but time feels like it moves pretty quick these days. I would’ve finished my degree before I knew it.
This isn’t the end. The somewhat apologetic man from Fort Valley State suggested I apply at Georgia Perimeter College. Their deadline for the fall semester is tomorrow, July 1, and their systems to accept applications are down for scheduled maintenance at the moment. I’ll apply, pay them my $20, send them my FAFSA and my transcripts and my immunization records. And when they reject me, I’ll ask what I can do that would gain me acceptance to their program. And I’ll do what they tell me, applying elsewhere, and asking what I can do when I’m rejected there as well.
I will grovel in the dust of academia. I will go before the admissions offices on my knees. I will repent, disavow my previous performance and swear that I will do better. I am willing to do this the hard way.
And when at last I’m out of options — when I ask what I can do and they say, “nothing” — then I’ll know I’ve reached the end and I will give up on this dream. I’ll accept it. I’ll be the dumb man that my academic record proves I am. It doesn’t matter why I’m excluded from academia. It doesn’t matter that poverty and shame had such a role in my last foray into education. I enjoy learning things and I want to be a learned person. I’ve taught myself a great deal and I’ve learned as much as I could from those who were willing to take the time to teach.
I’m scared and lonely. I don’t know if I’m forever excluded from academia. In spite of my poor performance, I recall how much I enjoyed being a college student. I remember the joy of sitting for an hour or more and listening to someone who was a verified expert speak on their chosen subject, imparting their wisdom. I relished the challenge of the advanced college-level classes. I starved, froze and learned a lot more about humility than I did astronomy.
So, I’ll keep applying. I’ll keep graciously accepting the calls and messages denying my admission. I’ll grieve. I’ll remain ashamed. Hell, it says in the Bible, isn’t fire and brimstone: it’s simply absence from God. To be in hell means to be excluded from love, to be cast out.
And so, this is hell.