College isn’t for everybody. Those four words changed my life. Those four words uttered to me by my high school guidance counselor hit with the force of a heavyweight prize fighter. Granted, I was a fairly average student(2.8GPA) with nothing extraordinary attached to my academic record. Like most students in their senior year, my thoughts were self-absorbed and focused on my impending collegiate freedom. I had no real plan for myself other than to get accepted into college and live out all of my Animal House fantasies. So as my final year began, I wondered into the office of my trusty guidance counselor Mr. Gilmore. Now in retrospect, Mr. Gilmore resembled a rather disheveled Dick Van Dyke. Kinda like if Dick went on a Charlie Sheen-Esque binger. I remember sitting in his office and taking note of his fondness for classic rock and tennis. I also remember that I couldn’t reconcile how someone who is so different from myself could possibly know what’s in my best interest. Despite my reservations, I listened intently to him explain that my 2.8 GPA and 24 ACT score was not up to collegiate standards. He ever so sincerely spoke to me on nature’s allocation of talents. How some people are born to go to college and others were born to find a different path in life. My pride refused to let me display how deeply his words hurt me. I went to an affluent school in the suburbs of Chicago where there were roughly 20 blacks out of 2000 students. Over 98% of my class would go on to attend 4 year Colleges and Universities. So despite my academic mediocrity, I couldn’t imagine going to anything less. Shamefully, there was a stigma around students attending 2 year schools and I never considered them an option(nor did Mr. Gilmore).
Both of my parents were born in the 1940s in the rural south and definitely didn’t live opulent lifestyles yet they graduated 4 year institutions(even doing some grad work). Though my grades were not top-notch, I was well aware that they weren’t THAT bad. Why would he just discount college as an option for me? I wasn’t a trouble maker, had an excellent attendance record, and was a star athlete on the local, state, and national level. His words made me feel a sense of hopelessness. A sense of despair. But in the midst of that pain, I remembered words my father spoke to me. He said ” Son, you can’t trust a man who doesn’t look you squarely in the eyes.” I heard those words as clearly as someone speaking to me face to face. During the entire course of my counselor’s natural law manifesto, I noticed he never looked me directly in the eyes. My father’s words were an ever present encouragement to me and still are. I should point out at this time that my father died in front of me a mere 18 months before this meeting. He died the beginning of my sophomore year as a result of doctor negligence following a surgical procedure. I spent most of high school years socially isolated and not terribly focused on my school work. I don’t use that as an excuse but thought that was worth mentioning.
So after Mr. Gilmore finished I shook his hand and set out to do everything in my power to prove him wrong. I finished the year with a renewed focus and ended up being accepted to The University of Arizona and Morehouse College. I chose Morehouse College, the alma mater of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Atlanta,Ga. Now my natural inclination was to rush into his office and laud my achievement in his sun-weathered face. However, I never did. I came to the conclusion that had it not been for him, I may not have had the focus and determination needed to do what I did. I went to Morehouse and spent 3 years before transferring to The Ohio State University where I completed my degree in Black Studies. I credit Mr. Gilmore in part for that. Had he not made me aware that he viewed me “differently”, I may not have went to college or devoted my life to the study of people of African descent(which I was NEVER taught in high school). He has crossed my mind on several occasions over the years. When I completed my Master’s degree he crossed my mind. When I received an academic fellowship to pursue Post-Masters graduate work he crossed my mind. So maybe college isn’t for everybody….but it was for me.
Peace, love, and blessings from Dathistoryguy