I once had a high school American History teacher call me “stupid.” The reason she did so is that she felt that I was a severe academic under-achiever and was wasting my opportunities.
I told her that I wasn’t stupid, to which she replied, “You certainly can’t tell it by your grades.”
With that, I decided to prove her wrong and made the honor roll the next six weeks period. When I presented to her my report card, she exclaimed, “Why, this is wonderful! See, you can do this all the time.”
To which I said, “Yes, but I don’t want to.” Proving that she was right in the first place.
A few weeks ago, I requested my transcript from Kingsport, Tennessee’s Dobyns-Bennett High School. It’s been 49 years since I graduated and I just wanted to see if my grades were as bad as I thought they were.
They weren’t. They were far worse. In the 9th grade, I finished with three “D’s,” a “C,” and an “F.” Oh, I did get an “A” in physical education, but I played football all four years so an “A” was pretty much automatic.
I took World History in summer school to make up for my “F” in Spanish and managed a “B.” I also decided I wouldn’t fail any more courses. They didn’t run the air conditioning for summer school.
My sophomore year was slightly better. Three “C’s” and a “B.” My junior year saw three “C’s” and two “B’s.” My senior year ended with my receiving four “C’s” and a “B.”
Out of a total graduating class of 440, I finished 273rd. My final average for the four years was an 81. A solid low “C.” Thank God for four years of physical fitness “A’s” to pull it up that high!
My lame excuse is that the grading system at DBHS was pretty strict: an “A” started at 94, a “B” at 87, a “C” at 77. 70-76 was a “D” and under that was a “F.” College was easier. An “A” started at 90, a “B” at 80. A “C” was somewhere below that.
The problem wasn’t ability. It was motivation. I liked high school … immensely! I played football, was on the karate team, dated almost every weekend, and learned almost all the lyrics to every pop or rock songs that hit the radio.
Unlike my wife, who wasted her time studying and garnering numerous academic awards, I lived in the moment. My dad stayed frustrated with me all four years, as did most of my teachers.
When I saw the transcript, I finally — after all these years — fully understood why they were.
My first quarter in college, I managed two “A’s” and two “C’s” for a 3.0 GPA. My second quarter, I crashed and burned. To avoid flunking out and getting drafted, I withdrew from school and joined the Marine Corps.
Three things were in my favor when I got out and returned to the university: (1) The discipline I picked up in the Corps and (2) a brilliant wife who said she wouldn’t stay married to a dummy or (when I thought about dropping out again) a quitter. (3) I had a vision of where I wanted to go and what I wanted to be.
On graduation day, I discovered that I had graduated with a bachelor’s degree cum laude, or “with honors.” I stayed around and enrolled in graduate school and did well enough well enough to earn a GPA of 3.42.
When I finished my seminary degree, it was with a GPA of 3.808 and magna cum laude, or “with high honors.” My post-graduate seminary work also saw a GPA of 3.8. That’s almost ALL “A’s.”
In fact, the dean of the doctoral program referred to all of us as “scholars.” I stifled a chuckle when he made that statement. My high school teachers would have guffawed.
I share all that to say this: To all those who finished high school with an embarrassing record (or didn’t finish high school at all), you don’t have to be defined by those days. There really is life after high school.
One can go from being called “stupid” by one teacher and wind up being called a “scholar” by another. It’s all on whether you choose to live with failure or move forward with determination.
And if you are still facing more high school days, here’s my unsolicited advice. Enjoy these days but realize that your parents and teachers know what they are talking about. They care about you and want you to succeed.
Jean Massengill, my junior English teacher, stopped me in the DBHS hallway as I was on my way to graduation practice. A tall lady, she looked me in the eyes, put her hands on my shoulders, and, with tears in her eyes, said, “David, if you ever amount to anything in life, please come back and tell me so that I can stop worrying about you and stop having to pray for you.”
One of the great pleasures in my early adult life was going back to see her years later. She even asked me to speak to her class and, when I finished, she said to the class, “If this man can make it in life, anybody can make it!” Finally, she was proud of me. Sort of.
So, don’t waste these days. Play sports, go on dates, learn the lyrics of songs … but don’t waste these days. Don’t be like I was. Don’t be stupid.
[David Epps is the pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King, Sharpsburg, GA between Newnan and Peachtree City (www.ctkcec.org). He is the bishop of the Charismatic Episcopal Diocese of the Mid-South which consists of Georgia and Tennessee (www.midsouthdiocese.org) and the Associate Endorser for the Department of the Armed Forces, U. S. Military Chaplains, ICCEC. He may contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.]