Blogger’s note: The following passage is the from my manuscript of Summer in the Waiting Room: How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved My Life. It’s the 9th excerpt from Chapter 1: “48 Viewmont Avenue.” I will post weekly excerpts every Wednesday morning. To read previous installments, go to the Categories link and click on “Summer in the Waiting Room.”
My sub-standard performance in the classroom finally caught up to me when I met with the school guidance counselor during the spring of senior year to discuss options after graduation. His name was Russell Bailey. Mr. Bailey was a portly Irish man in his late 50s with piercing blue-green eyes, thinning black hair slicked back so it looked like it was stuck to his scalp, and a large head holding thick jowls that hung from his face.
Sitting behind his desk and talking with a booming voice, he looked and sounded intimidating as he opened my file and began to lay out my options. He told me that my poor study skills, a mediocre 2.72 grade point average, and an average SAT score left me with few options other than trade school, work, or maybe, community college. I sat in front of his desk stunned, scared, and confused. Everything had always worked out for me. Assuring Mr. Bailey that my parents, friends, siblings, everyone, expected me to attend college; I quietly listened as he bluntly told me that community college was the only option then.
Later that evening at dinner sitting in the restaurant booth that wrapped around the family kitchen table, I shared the results of the meeting with Mr. Bailey with my parents. My mom looked at me with a puzzled facial expression as my dad continued eating without looking up from his plate or saying a word. I went to bed that night with a huge lump in my stomach trying to figure out how I was going to avoid my parents in the morning.
The next day at school, during the mid-morning break, I was at the table with the guys when a voice over the public address system directed me to go to the office immediately. As I nervously walked to the office, the boys at the table hooted and hollered because it looked like the school boy had finally gotten into trouble. When I arrived, the secretary motioned toward Mr. Bailey’s office where he was standing by the door waiting for me with a forced smile on those heavy jowls.
Walking into his office, I found my dad sitting in the chair I was sitting in the day before with the same beaming smile that attracted my mom so many years before. More confused and nervous than ever, because my dad never took a day off of work, I stood motionless trying to figure out what was going on. Mr. Bailey explained to me that my grade point average and SAT scores met the minimum requirements to apply for acceptance to San Jose State University, and that he would help me through the application process.
Once again, the cocoon saved me, and I was on my way to college, but with major chinks in the armor that had protected me throughout my life. Registration day at San Jose State was overwhelming with thousands of people waiting in long lines to sign up for classes at the tables spread out on the large lawn of the main quad where the university’s iconic ivy-covered tower overlooked the entire scene. That first semester I took a full load of courses that included classes in science, math, history, English, and basketball for physical education.
Although I lived at home, at school I was on my own; no teachers reminding me of reading assignments, no homework to submit on a daily basis, and just a few mid-term and final exams. Since I loved to read, this was going to be easier than I thought, so I paid more attention to developing a social life as a college student. After classes, I would read a little bit at the library then walk over to the student center looking to meet people.
Unlike high school, however, I was having a hard time making friends. I was still seventeen years old, and SJSU was a commuter college, so the students were on average older than traditional college students, and everyone seemed busy, serious, and in a hurry to leave campus. Fortunately, football season was in full swing, so I went back to the comfort of the cocoon and used my status as a student to secure tickets to take friends, who were either working or trying to figure out what to do next life, to Spartan Stadium to tailgate, check out the girls, and watch college football.
Soon I began to leave campus right after classes like the other commuter students, bypassing the library and student center, and heading straight home to read before I went to work at the shoe store or, on my day off, hook up with the guys to drink beer and hang out. My academic performance was predictable; I earned a “B” in history and English, an “A” in PE, and dropped the math and science classes to avoiding a failing grade.
I once again registered for a full load of five classes the next semester, adding a Spanish class to my schedule of general education courses. I didn’t consult with an academic advisor, so I was taking classes haphazardly, rather than for a declared major or specific roadmap toward graduation. I just wanted to make up for the two classes I had dropped during the first semester. Second semester was more of the same; going to class, doing a little reading and no studying, working part time, and carousing with Rudy and the guys.
Next Wednesday: Academically disqualified from San Jose State University