There's no reason why I should be an academic. At least that's what you would say if you knew me during my high school years. Back then, I thought I was dumb, unable to learn. I'm not sure why, because I never tried. If I did study, I would quit when it got difficult. And so my bad grades turned into a negative feedback loop. I wouldn't study, I'd get bad grades, so I wouldn't study. Whatever it was, I did next to nothing academically and I mostly disrupted the classes I was in. My proudest achievement from High School is that I was voted the class clown. Mary Carr calls students like me the squeakers in her Syracuse University commencement speech and like her, I too have a soft spot for the squeaker students that I teach.
I loved high school, but looking back, there is no reason why I should have even graduated. Reading some of my letters home from when I was a Mormon Missionary, I was practically illiterate. The one book that I read during high school, "The Old Man and the Sea" by Hemingway still resonates. The reason I remember that book was because it was the first and only time that I got totally immersed in a fictional story and the only book I read. Since the book was so absorbing, you would think that reading would have caught on, but chasing girls, being the class clown, and smoking a lot of marijuana was my only ambition.
Several of my friends from high school went off to college: Stanford, UCLA, BYU. While they were off growing up, I maintained my high school lifestyle. I worked at a florist delivering bouquets of flowers during highschool and kept that job while all my friends were gone. I was that cliche that hung around hanging on to my past glory days.
I distinctly remember when they all returned for Christmas break, they were all different, they were a little more grown-up, their world started to expand. I felt the difference immediately. Sure, we had fun that first Christmas, but it was clear that they had moved on and I was falling behind by staying the same.
I taught myself how to read while on the mission. I read a lot of books. Granted, they were religious, confirmation bias books, but they were dense and I used a dictionary, a lot, to look up words I didn't know. Also, all my companions had college goals, and so I began to consider myself college material.
I was home for two weeks, before taking a bus that Ricks College chartered for students who were enrolled. I was the same strict, obey the rules, religious fanatic that I was on my mission, and Ricks College, a Mormon based School in Idaho, had enough rules to keep me happy. And I obeyed them all. I quickly found my zealot tribe and got to work studying.
It didn't take long for the mission attitude to wear off. I soon found a new tribe, the type of folks that believed rules were made to be broken. By normal University rules, we were very tame, like letting girls stay in our apartment past the 10 pm curfew (I'm embarrassed just writing this).
After the first year and straight A's, I realized I could learn. After two years I transferred to BYU and was again intimidated. I resumed my study habits, tried out several majors, Accounting, English, etc, and when I took my first art class, I was hooked. I changed my major to Ceramics and by the time I graduated, I had enough credits to have two degrees. I finished BYU with a Bachelor of Fine Arts. I then earned a Master of Fine Arts from Southern Illinois University in Edwardsville, Illinois.
After grad school, I started adjunct teaching in Denver, Colorado, while applying for full-time teaching jobs. After a few disappointments, we finally settled in Toquerville, Utah where we set up a pottery studio and lived and hustled for 15 years.
Now I teach at Southern Utah University, where I associate with the squeakers and the straight-A students and everyone in between. I like them all and I really like it when the light goes on and they realize that they're not in High School anymore.