We hear it a lot today. The need to help young boys and girls who perhaps have challenging lives, to strive for the heights. We are asked to inspire, direct, counsel, set an example.
Mentors are wonderful in their willingness to offer of their time and talent.
Yet, if we delve a bit deeper, we realize that many of the people who affected our lives most deeply and most clearly, had no particular intend to do so, and the interaction may well have been brief.
So it was with me.
I grew up in a factory town called Flint. A grimy hard nut of a town where at one time Buick and Chevrolet ruled. The UAW was also powerful, so much so that the local county prosecutor had a standing order to UAW members that their complaints would be personally attended to. (Of course how their complaints were actually processed was quite another thing.)
My parents worked in “the shop”, (as we called it) my dad as a journeyman mechanic, my mother sat the line at AC Spark Plug. My uncle worked there too. All my neighbors, or at least most it seemed, also built cars or parts that went in them. We had a good life, wages and benefits were good, we lived well for working class folks, we had vacations at Houghton Lake where our family had three cabins all told.
Nobody’s parents in our neighborhood (at least as far as I knew) were college educated. My dad had not finished high school. But they all were good citizens who paid their taxes, read the news, argued about politics, mowed lawns, went fishing and deer hunting, and dreamed–always dreamed that their kids would go to college and not have to work in the shops. Not that it was so bad there, but it was a soul suffering routine, it was work for a paycheck. It paid the bills. It was not the life my parents wanted for me.
Nobody in my family (aunts, uncles, cousins) have ever gone to college. I was thought to be the first.
I had early on been selected to jump ahead in math, and I did okay until Algebra II where I began to struggle. Fearful, since this was the first “mental” obstacle” I’d come up against, I quickly ended my math endeavors and science too for good measure. I settled into “office” classes, learning typing and shorthand and bookkeeping, along with the general fare.
Our school was a county one, peopled mostly with kids like me, working class kids. Our education was good so we thought, but it was basic. There were no sports beyond the ordinary, no serious experiences with anthropology, archaeology, or philosophy.Things like that were not going to help us kids who were, most thought, destined for mid-level white-collar fare. We would be perhaps teachers or police officers, office managers, bookkeepers. A very few of us might become lawyers or doctors. Beyond that, well, we had no clue since astrophysicist was not in the vocabulary nor a topic one heard in the hallways of Hamady. Gasp, I’d never even heard the term paleontology before college, which turned into one my most favorite “hobbies”.
So I opted, because I thought I was a math failure and therefore not “serious” college material, for a junior college education in office management. Since I had taken so many classes in high school, I slid into second year classes in my first, leaving me “free” electives in my second year. I chose as one of them, introduction to political science.
Wow, I sat mesmerized in that class. I was soaking up the stuff faster than a cat with a milk fetish.
Our instructor had had each of us fill out a card at the start indicating what our junior college program was. A few days later, he confronted me in the hall. In a gruff but entirely friendly manner, he said,
“Ms McCameron, what the hell are you doing in my class?”
I gulped, stammering that I had some electives to use up, and gee wiz I sure loved learning about politics and gosh, if only I’d known, I might have applied to go to a four-year school, but now it was too late. . . .
“See me during office hours when you get a chance and we’ll talk.” he said, and off he went, and off I went, wondering what the hell that was and would be about.
Well, I went to his office, and I found out that damn, I could transfer to another school, and a lot of my credits might well apply, and my last semester could be chock full of stuff that would surely transfer. And he told me, that I had all the “right stuff” from whatever he had gleaned from my answers on quizzes and participating in class.
So, I did. I applied to a couple of places, but I truly only wanted to go to one, Michigan State University!
And they were happy to have me, and I transferred as a full junior.
And that was the beginning.
I got my bachelors in political science. By then the education bug has firmly lodged in my head, and since having such a degree was pretty worthless, I applied to law school, and lo and behold, they wanted me too.
I lot has happened since then. I grew bored with law, nearly became a nun, returned to school again this time in hot pursuit of a degree in theology or biblical studies, fell in love, yada yada.
But that teacher, oh that teacher, I am convinced changed my life. I was too unsophisticated to even know that you could transfer college credits. I would have likely ended up working in some insurance company office as the office manager, married some insurance salesman (no offense), had kids, and stayed within 50 miles of Flint.
Now, all that might be fine, it might grand for others. It would have not been for me. I had dreams that were bigger than Flint, bigger in the end, than Michigan. And I’m pretty sure that instructor had a very lot to do with starting it all off.
And I wish I knew where he was, so I could thank him. Our lives crossed but for a moment in time, but he had no idea how big a difference he made in my life. Thanks Mr. M. It’s turned out better than I could ever have believed.