Category Archives: Uncategorized

Living in Academic Absentia

Standard

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.

Exclusion.

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.

NPR: Poor Rich Kids Stressed, Need More Sleep

Standard

This morning, NPR aired a report about teenagers succumbing to the toll placed on them by their grueling advanced placement (AP) homework assignments.

Some of them, the report cried, had to do as much as four hours of homework a night! And one student they profiled – 16-year-old Nora Huynh from Alameda, Calif. – is actually getting irritable with her siblings and suffering headaches because of the vast quantity of homework they’re doing!

Colleen Frainey pets a horse.

Colleen Frainey of Tualatin, Ore., pets her pony. She was so stressed by school that she had to drop a class so she could ride her horse, poor thing. (Credit: NPR)

The stress is so much that some students have to drop their extracurricular activities, like sports and piano lessons, I guess. (I don’t know. This is all foreign to me.)

That report rolled into another on a movement to push back the start time of school because some students are tired in the mornings.

I listened, amused, as I trekked into work. I took an AP class in high school – AP literature, got an A, and tested-out of having to take a lit class in college – and it was more work than the regular-level classes I had. But then, even that homework took a backseat to my work obligations. While others pored over their calculus homework, I raked dishes into a trashcan, assembled pans of lasagna and scrubbed down a kitchen until around 10 p.m. every night. Then, it was home to begin my studies until I couldn’t keep my eyes open any longer.

And this is the experience of a large number of teenagers who also would very much like the opportunity to go to college. Because that’s why these kids are crying if they carry less than a 4.0: they’re competing with one another to pursue their postsecondary opportunities. But they’re also competing with their less-privileged peers – the kids making Big Macs and bagging groceries after class.

Missing from NPR’s report – which included the statistic that almost half of high school students were stressed about their homework (half!) – was even so much as a nod to these kids.

One girl profiled in the report did the unimaginable: she dropped an AP class. The result: she now had more time to ride her horse.

Oh, for heaven’s sake.

And then to follow that with the suggestion that school starts too early and the petitions to make school start no earlier than 8 a.m. just piled on the insult and injury. Pushing the start of school back means school lets out later. That’s fewer hours for the kids who need jobs to work, and even fewer hours for those kids to complete their homework assignments.

The kids who work already face an uphill academic climb. They are likely to be the first generation of their family to attend college. They won’t have the economic support that their peers enjoy (I myself rarely bought a textbook, and if I did, I usually bought one on discount that was one or two editions older than the one currently being used for the given class). And they won’t benefit from the scholarship opportunities that their AP-involved peers will have (especially as more public scholarship programs, like Georgia’s HOPE scholarship, become merit-based rather than need-based, so that those students with the extra time to pursue a high grade point average will be better positioned than their needier counterparts who must balance academics against employment).

I do hope NPR’s tongue was firmly lodged in their cheek during this story, but if it was, it was well concealed; the report sounded sincere.

More time and attention needs to be given to the plight of those who are overcoming adversity to live their dreams and build better lives. The kid who can’t play with her pony because she has homework (bless her heart) hardly deserves our sympathy.

‘You’re So Hard to Live With’

Standard

So, this pile of extraneous crap accumulates in the kitchen — magazines, mail, cards, etc. — and the kitchen is an area I try very hard to keep clean, because that’s where I keep my food supply.

I ask my wife, while I’m wiping down the kitchen, if she’ll do something about the pile of crap. “Well,” she says, “some of that is yours, too.”

OK, I say, and I make two piles — hers and mine. I then dispose of mine, which, for whatever it’s worth, was much smaller than hers. Just sayin, right? And I leave her pile to sort through at her leisure.

This morning, she addressed the issue by sort of smearing the pile across the counter. I’m not sure why. Perhaps she’s waiting on it to cool? I don’t know. But then she settled in to play on her new iPad. The one I waded through hell to get her last night — the day it came out.

And yet, she still manages to scowl when I tell her she’s so hard to live with. Natch.

image

I'm sooo going to get in trouble for this

It Pains Me, But Don’t Blame Nathan Deal for Troy Davis’ Death

Standard

Look, I’ll be the last guy who takes up for Gov. Nathan Deal. Really, it’s leaving a bad taste in my mouth.

But, I’ve got to do this. I’m just going to lay back, and think of England.

This morning, I saw a retweeted tweet scroll across my Twitter feed from Alec Baldwin: “Nathan Deal has disgraced Georgia, the justice system, the country.”

That may be. But not because of Troy Davis.

History lesson ahead. You’ve been warned.

Once upon a time, there was a state. We’ll call it Georgia, but that’s what most everyone else calls it. And once upon a time in the state of Georgia, there was only one real political party.

That party didn’t care for black people.

So, to make sure that black people didn’t have the opportunity to have a voice in the affairs of the state, the Democrats conceived of the “white primary,” in which only white people could vote. This was OK, the United States Supreme Court said (though about nine years later, they changed their minds).

Also, this one party – the Democrats – decided that it would be unwise to have one big political boss with too much power. Though the Democrats were members of one party, they still hardly saw eye-to-eye on many topics. (Really, the one-party system was an excuse to have a white primary; the divisions within the party were nonetheless very deep.)

Eugene Talmadge

Former Georgia Gov. Eugene Talmadge, who was partial to the white primaries. When he died before taking office for a fourth term, his son, Herman, assumed office. Because that's how we do things down here in Georgia.

To make sure no one person gained too much power, the Democrats devised a way of structuring government that meant that, while the governor was the head of state and technically the chief executive, the power of government was shared among the members of his cabinet, which were elected independently of the governor.

So – while on a federal level, the president gets to nominate his attorney general, secretary of state, secretary of agriculture, etc. – in Georgia, all those people are elected. We elect a commissioner of agriculture, a labor commissioner, a state schools superintendent, an attorney general and a secretary of state, among others.

Also, the power of the governor was further limited by splitting traditionally executive power among a number of politically appointed boards. The governor doesn’t decide which roads get paved; that’s decided by the board of the Georgia Department of Transportation.

The governor’s authority over the state’s judiciary is similarly limited. In some states, the governor can commute the sentence of death row inmates wholesale; the governor of Indiana did that just a few years ago. In Georgia, however, the governor simply doesn’t have that kind of power.

Now, over the years, the power of the Democrats has waned and the Republican Party – Gov. Deal’s party – has become resurgent. The last governor, Sonny Perdue, was the first Republican elected to the governor’s mansion since Reconstruction. The Republicans also control both houses of the General Assembly, though friction there runs deep nonetheless. Republicans have tried to replace their own Speaker of the House and have clipped the power of the Lieutenant Governor, who presides over the Senate just as the vice president does at the federal level, taking away his influence over legislation and committee assignments.

Nathan Deal

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal, who doesn't have the power to grant clemency to death row inmates.

So, we’re right back where we began with a one party system. And, for all intents and purposes, because that one party is the Republican Party, we’re also faced with what are essentially white primaries.

So it goes.

Last night, it came down to only three entities that could stop Troy Davis’ execution. The Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroled – stacked with political appointees who are sympathetic toward law enforcement and prosecutors but not so much felons – heard Davis’ appeal Monday. Worth noting, perhaps, is the fact that they cut off Davis’ defense team, and allotted the prosecution more time to present their case. They denied clemency for Davis and unceremoniously said they would not reconsider their decision.

There was then the Georgia Supreme Court, but they bowed out pretty early and denied his appeals.

Last was the United States Supreme Court. The appeal was handed to Justice Clarence Thomas – a black man from Georgia who hates to be reminded of either – and he led the discussion at the court. A temporary stay was granted while the Court deliberated.

Troy Davis

The late Troy Davis. If the phone on the wall next to the gurney rang and it was the governor on the line, he probably had a wrong number.

Ultimately, the Court denied the appeal and, by 11:08 p.m., Troy Davis was dead.

We all kept praying that the phone on the wall near the gurney would ring. But if it did, and it was the governor on the line, he probably just dialed a wrong number.

There. I stood up for Nathan Deal.

Don’t look at me. And please, just leave the money on the dresser.

I’m going to take a shower.

9/11: The New 4th of July

Standard

I walked into my World Geography class shortly before 9:30 a.m. on 9-11-01 with no knowledge of what had happened 1,500 miles north of me in New York City. I remember a couple of students asking the teacher about the incident, but he had a “wait and see” attitude much like myself so we continued on with our daily lesson. An hour and 15 minutes later I left class and walked over to the student center where the television was replaying scene after scene of the second plane flying into the World Trade Center. The student center was packed with people and I could not get close enough to the TV to see what was going on (I had, and still have very poor eyesight). I walked to my red ’89 Camaro and turned on the radio and drove home listening to the news for my entire 30-minute commute. I came home and turned on the TV, which I sat very close to, and watched CNN.

Within a few minutes I absorbed what had happened a few hours earlier and put my mind to work. The events were catastrophic and unprecedented.  That much I knew. But other than that, the news was not giving me anything useful. They were repeating the same information, the same videos, the same on scene reports every 15 minutes just like they do with every big event until more information comes in. I have no use for hearsay or conjecture. I want my facts unbiased and backed up by evidence. Those who know me know that I don’t get too upset when things go wrong and I don’t get too excited when things are going well. I do not worry about situations that I cannot control. Something happens, I absorb the information, think about it, and form an opinion.

As upset and afraid as I was at the events on 9/11, there was nothing I could immediately do about it and I wasn’t learning any more from the news broadcasts. So I did what I do in most situations of importance: I slept on it. I took a nap to wait for more accurate information and reports to be presented my way. In the days and weeks following the tragedy, I read news reports and watched CNN to see what new information had popped up.

I’ve had 10 years to absorb information and think about the situation and after talking to a friend that lives in New York I have come to a conclusion. She said something to the effect of “New York has already grieved and moved on. It’s the rest of the nation that’s still grieving.” I know that 3,000 innocent people died that day and it is probably the worst tragedy we’ve ever experienced in America. I also know that we should be proud of how New York has recovered and we’ve recovered as a nation. I think instead of being sad on this day every year we should make it a celebration. Let’s celebrate the firemen that went into those buildings. Let’s celebrate the passengers that crashed that plane in Pennsylvania. Let’s celebrate the way New York has rebounded from that day. There is no need to be sad anymore. One day I’m going to die, or kick the bucket as I like to say, and after a short period of grief I want everyone to remember the good times and be happy that we had them. I think that’s what we should do with 9/11. We’ve grieved and now let’s remember the good times and celebrate the heroes and the lives of the people who died. Start the day off with a moment of silence to remember everyone and then get the party started.

There should be parades and festivals surrounding this day. It should be a holiday where people don’t have to go to work and they can grill hot dogs and hamburgers and kids get out of school.  What better way to prove to the rest of the world that we’re OK and that we’re going to be OK, no matter what they try to do to us? You think al Qaeda wants to see the U.S. crying every year over their one great feat of terrorism? Of course they do. If they get what they want, then they win. I don’t think the people on Flight 93 wanted those terrorists to win. In fact, they might appreciate a holiday in their honor.

So fire up the grill, crack open a beer and extend a great big red white and blue middle finger to the terrorists who tried to bring down our great country 10 years ago!

9/11: A Day That Seemed Unreal

Standard

With the 10th anniversary of Sept. 11th, 2001, right around the corner, I thought it might be a good time to remember (not that I ever forgot) what that date means to me.

There are mixed emotions of anger, grief, strength and a lot of passion that flow through me. That day was one of those life-changing moments for me; one of those moments that helped me look at life with a certain humbleness and appreciation for what I have and who I have in my life.

I was awakened by my father the morning of the tragedy, like any other morning at that time in my life. I was resistant to wake up so early. At that time, I never felt a need to.

This time was different.

Dad had a slight anxiousness to him that morning, and he was insistent that I get out of bed and watch what was on the television. I slowly poured myself out of bed and, zombie-like, walked down the hallway to the living room where mom had already taken a seat. The televison was already on, and after I wiped the sleep from my eyes, I began to focus on what was happening.

I was looking at the same shot that all of America was watching that morning. Smoke billowed from one of the World Trade Center towers. At this point, no one really knew exactly what had happened, but whatever it was, it was very bad. In the meantime, dad popped a VCR tape into the machine and pressed record. We did not know what we were witnessing, but we felt it was historical —  something to be remembered.

The second tower was struck and that solidified any doubts of what was happening. America has come under attack. I’m not really sure how long I sat there with my eyes glued to the television, but I was paralyzed with shock. My jaw dropped at the sight of the people jumping from the burning buildings. Then the unthinkable happened: the towers began to crumble and collapse onto the busy streets of New York City. I was fighting back tears and just horrified at the images I was witnessing.

When I was finally able to move away from the television, I just felt numb all over. I had just been walking those streets in New York City, not six weeks earlier. I saw the everyday bustle of those streets and could only imagine the terror and chaos that must be taking place. The wonderful thing about New York City that I experienced from prior trips there and stories from my father was that the people there are strong, resilient — they come together in time of need. I don’t think any other city in this country — in this world — would be better suited then NYC to pull through such a tragedy.

If you know anything about me, you will know my love for NYC (go Yankees!).

The one silver lining in the cloud that is 9/11 is that it pulled us closer together as a country. People all over the country were doing what they could to help the survivors, first responders and families of victims — though it took our government long enough to lend a helping hand to the victims, but that could make for a whole other blog.

The tragedy should be a wake up that we are not promised tomorrow and that we should always take care of each other in this country. I recommend to anyone who reads this, that they take a trip to ground zero to just begin to grasp the concept of what happened to us as a nation and use it as a learning experience and an opportunity to humble one’s self.

I hope that everyone finds time this Sunday to take a moment and remember those who lost their lives and loved ones on that tragic September day.

God bless New York City and God bless the United States of America.