This I Believe

Jane - Cameron Park, California
Entered on May 16, 2006
Age Group: 30 - 50
Themes: work
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I Believe in Encouraging Others

I grew up in a large family and we lived hand to mouth. Although my parents had college educations, they couldn’t afford to send five kids through school. Nevertheless, we were told that we were smart and capable and could accomplish anything we set our minds to. Yet, like some young people who don’t have a clear direction, I was an unmotivated student and performed pretty poorly in school.

After high school I cast about doing minimum wage work and then went to secretarial school at my dad’s insistence so that I could at least support myself by typing. A few years later I found myself working for an energetic entrepreneur who was totally blind and had started his own business. He and his business partner wife, like my parents, told me I was smart and capable, and to reach further in life I should really go to college. They stopped just short of saying I was wasting my potential.

At the time I had a really wonderful boyfriend, Dan, who had graduated from the University of California. When I told him that my bosses kept saying I should go to college, he agreed, and also said that if I really wanted to go, he’d go with me. This sounded great. So at the age of 23 I sent off the required college application, puffed up a bit by declarations about how much I’d learned and matured out there in the real world since high school, and how ready I had become to apply myself to the rigors of university study. This was supported by kind letters of recommendation from my employer. Dan and I quit our jobs, arranged for housing for both of us, and left for San Diego excited about this new adventure.

The day we arrived in San Diego I got the thin letter. At first I thought it was a mistake, but when I went to the admissions office, I was told that between my low SAT scores and my less than mediocre high school transcript, I did not meet any of the minimum standards for admission set by the U.C. Regents. I explained to the counselor that I had made all these life changes so that I could go to the university and now I was here to start school, so what should I do?

The look on her face told me that she was dumbfounded by my actions and at a loss for words of advice. I had told everyone I was going to UCSD, and that’s what I had to do. She gently proposed that the university had an extension program that allowed members of the community to enroll in two university classes per quarter, but priority would be given to regularly enrolled students. Essentially I could crash classes in the hope that by week 2 or 3 of the course enough matriculated students would drop the class so there would be room for me. I pleaded with her to take three classes per quarter (four was the minimum for full-time students). For whatever reason, she bent the rule just enough so that I would be encouraged to push on.

It was a difficult year. I would typically start off in six or seven classes and hope that three would work out. I loved being there. I spent all my spare time studying. I had good skills as a secretary so I patched together temp jobs that worked around my class schedule. The university was so enormous and full of prospects it was nearly overwhelming. I found incredible professors, all willing to help me make up for lost time, like the brilliant mathematician who spent time tutoring me in remedial math to make up for having failed algebra in high school so that I could end up with an A in his class and move on. I gravitated toward older students at the university where I found other stories of people who changed horses in mid-stream. When I felt disheartened by the complicated gyrations at the beginning of each quarter, Dan was there to urge me on.

At the end of my first year I had my pre-finals grade report which also showed the history of the two previous quarters I had completed. It was a progress report any freshman undergraduate would have been happy with, mostly A’s and lots of lessons learned. I thought about the people in my life, those who were close to me and those who were nearly strangers, who helped buoy me up in this journey, and I walked across campus to the provost’s office. I don’t know exactly what I intended to do, and was almost relieved when his secretary asked if I had an appointment, because I’d probably be told to schedule something later—which would give me some time to collect my thoughts or chicken out. But the provost’s voice from within his office said “I have time. Send her in,” and there I was. He invited me to sit and asked what was on my mind. I told him how I’d made the assumption that the university would let me in based on my opinion that I was a ready student. I told him how difficult it was to proceed the way I had been, like navigating a maze. I told him how determined I was to make it through, but wasn’t there some way to remove the obstacles?

The provost took a piece of paper from his note pad, wrote a message on it, signed it, handed it to me and said, “Take this over to admissions and they will handle the paperwork to enroll you as a full time student.” To say I was blown away is an understatement. I suddenly understood not so much that I was smart and capable and had untapped potential, but that people want to encourage others to believe in themselves and to try. I believe in the power of encouragement. Now I try to encourage Dan’s and my daughters, and anyone close to me or those I barely know, that we should always try, and keep trying; keep putting one foot in front of the other until the good thing happens.