Tuesday, September 21, 2010

When Mike Understood


When I first went off to college, I lived alone in a basement apartment. I rode the number 7 bus each day to campus and came home after dark each night. I was very lonely. I had zero friends for the first semester.  I frequently spoke to absolutely no living person for an entire day. Remember, my history class had hundreds of students in a huge auditorium.
I didn’t feel like a cipher, but I certainly didn’t feel very good. I was totally ready to drop out of school and move back home. Fortunately, my wise mother would not let me come home. She told me I had to finish at least the first semester before I quit.  Somehow, that contract seemed reasonable and I stayed. I was firmly committed to being a self-pitying miserable lonely dog. But, I stayed.
I had been a fairly good high school student, but at Berkeley, I felt rather like a dull knife. I could not tell what was going on because I lived alone. I did not leave class and go off with my fellow fraternity brothers, or with my fellow dorm dwellers. I went off by myself. Poor me. Even now, I feel sorry for that kid.
But one day, late in the Fall, I did my first series of mid-term exams. I wrote in my little blue book. I waited for the grades. I think they were typed and posted on a bulletin board. Somehow,  I discovered I was getting passing grades at Berkeley. I wasn’t doing “A” work but I was not failing.  As I later learned, many of my fellow students got the boot.  At Berkeley, they would let you know you were failing, but it was totally up to you to do something about it.  A couple of warnings and then bye bye.
On the day that I understood I was going to make it, I suddenly calmed down. I began to consider that I might be reasonably bright. By the time I graduated 4 years later, I did know that I was intelligent.  That is pretty big learning event.  I’ve met many adults who are still questioning their own intelligence. I’m grateful that I figured it out when I was 18.