As a HS senior I was forced to take a college-level English class with Miss Wallace, a teacher who had been intimidating students since the Eisenhower administration. Miss Wallace was a fixture, having taught not only the class of 1979, but many of their parents as well. Her grading scale and expectations were high. It took 95% or above to get an A. My last semester with her, I finally managed to eek out an A . . . but more than that, I actually began caring about this thing called English and writing.
My wife, Becky, loves to remind me that she graduated as the number-seven-ranked student in our class (a top-tenner, a National Honor Society member, a Phi-Betta-Kapper, and other accolades), while I, on the other hand, graduated closer to the bottom ten-percent of the entire enterprise. She got all the brains. All I got were the b---s.
Nevertheless, the day after I graduated from high school, my momma told me to get in the car and push my sorry butt twenty-five miles north to Terre Haute and enroll at Indiana State University. I had no plan. No fancy resume. No money. Heck, I barely had a diploma. But by golly, the accepted me there. But I figured, if ISU would accept Larry Bird as a student, they would accept anyone.
When the ISU registrar sitting behind the bullet-proof glass asked me if I wanted to declare a major, I said, "Yeah . . . English. I ain't a smart man, but I speak it pretty good." I then asked her to direct me to the men's room, so I could practice writing my poetry on the walls.
But I was "in". A real honest-to-goodness college student. And I began my first college course five days after I graduated from high school, before the ink had even dried on my high school diploma. I began earning my college credits while the others in my high school class were still whooping it up and making their scholarship selections to more prestigious universities with clean bathrooms.
I enrolled in a writing class, English Composition 101, with Dr. Gates. But like a child entering Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory, I had no idea how this one decision would change my life.