THE TEACHER WHO TAUGHT ME THE JOYS OF LANGUAGE
In high school I had a French teacher who was simply the best! I took her class because she had taught both of my sisters, and was highly recommended. I took her class freshman, sophomore, junior, and senior year. I remember knowing very little French when initially took her class (although I had taken some in elementary school). By the time I was a senior, she had my writing a daily French journal, talking to guest French teachers and really loving the process.
What made Mme. Tucker so different. First and foremost she was one of the kindest people I’ve ever met. Second, she is was a teacher that was able to strike a perfect balance between the textbooks/written work and experiential learning. I remember going to a French restaurant with her and the International Club members, watching La Retour de Martin Guerre in class, having a French food days, reciting French poetry, reading French articles and stories. It was really amazing. Not only was it a fun class, but it really fueled my desire to learn the language outside of class. She was so supportive and I always felt like learning to speak French, and speak it well, was entirely possible with her as my teacher. Madame Tucker, I haven’t spoken to you in many years, but the benefits of your classes have been more lasting than you could possibly imagine…you expanded my thinking and for that I am sincerely grateful.
THE TEACHER WHO KINDLED THE WRITER IN ME
When I was a high school senior I had an AP English (Advanced Placement) teacher who wasn’t always that nice to me…Dr. Mark Shearer. He was that one that really didn’t cut me a whole lot of slack. He’s the kind of teacher, where you thought you’d written your heart out, and lo and behold you get back an “I,” not an “A,” “B,” or “F,” just an “I” for incomplete, with a note simply saying “Give me more.” He was a master at pulling the best out of students. At times I thought “Why is he always giving me such a hard time?”
Because I had built a reputation of over the previous four years of being a well-behaved student who actually did his work, I think some teachers were more lenient with me. If I was a little late on a project, teachers would be more accommodating (not overly so, but just a hair), but not Doctor Shearer. I remember being late to his class once and he sent me to “lock-out.” It’s a place (usually the gymnasium) where students had to go and wait when they were late to class. The sucky thing about lock-out is that you miss the period (what sense does that make, right?). I didn’t want to miss class, especially and AP class, but I had no choice.
At times I thought Dr. Shearer could be a bit of a jerk. On the flip side, his class was incredibly engaging, and he is hands down, one of the best teachers I ever had. I entered a short story contest and actually got my story published and there was an essay I did on philanthropy and won third prize. I was recognized at a special dinner at the Swissotel in Atlanta, Georgia to which was able to invite one guest. I invited Dr. Shearer.
I never did take the AP exam, but I didn’t mind that so much. Because of Dr. Shearer I was able to learn that words can be a way to reach people, a way to be your own producer using a tool that can, in many respects, be far more powerful than even the best camera…words. Writing is something that enjoyed doing prior to my senior year in high school, but after him, I grew to love writing. As you can see, I continue to write to this very day.
Dr. Shearer, thank you for being hard on me when I needed it the most. Your classes inspired me to keep writing, and I hope that somewhere, someday, you’ll read this.
THE END OF HIGH SCHOOL…
I remember being just a little cocky as the end of high school approached. I felt like I was on top of the world. My grade point average was over 3.8, my SAT scores weren’t the best but I convinced myself that “1200 is a strong score.” I was voted “Most Intellectual” and “Most Likely to Succeed” by my peers**.
**Ahhh, superlatives. It’s so funny because they don’t mean jack sh*t when you run into life’s struggles**
With high spirits and a bloated ego, I proceeded to send off applications to some of the top schools in the country: Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Dartmouth and applied to Xavier (in Louisiana) and Morehouse College (as backups). Surely I wouldn’t need the last two because certainly a student of my caliber was headed to the Ivy Leagues to become a successful doctor (that really was my thinking, presumptuous much?).
I remember getting letters from Harvard and Yale showing an interest me and having to schedule an interview with an alumnus that lived in the area. The first interview was with Yale and I was just cocky as hell, thinking that my confidence would help me to stand out from the other applicants. For example I remember this slim, dark-haired woman asking me “What’s one word I would use to describe yourself?” and I said “A ham.” That’s it! No clever play on words, just a ham!?! You can probably imagine why the rest of that interview was a haze. I walked out feeling like my big, balloon-ass, ego-pumped head got a little deflated that day.
The Harvard Interview wasn’t a whole lot better, but for different reasons. I took this one much more seriously because it was the school that I desperately wanted to get into. I thought that if I can just get into Harvard, the world will be at my fingertips. I had to visit one of the local hospitals to interview with a doctor alumnus this time. I tried to be as candid as possible but something didn’t feel right. There was a smugness, a smog of condescension that filled the room. The end result…I choked. I never forgave myself for that. I let this Harvard Alumnus make me feel as though I wasn’t good enough.
I only remember doing those two interviews for college. When the acceptance/rejection letters started coming in near the end of the year, I still was clinging to the hope that one…just one of these amazing schools HAD to accept me. I would pray before opening every letter, and one by one…the rejections came. Harvard, Yale, Dartmouth, and Princeton all gave me those “We regret to inform you letters.” I wondered if all the schools were in cahoots and if a rejection from one sparked the flame of rejections from the others. Who knows…all I knew was that college starting dates were right around the corner, and I was college-less.
I eventually received acceptance letters from Morehouse and Xavier. But there was a part of me that didn’t want to go to either of those schools. I had seen the area surrounding Morehouse while riding on the highway and it wasn’t pretty. I had never been on the campus, but I remember that it was in the part of downtown Atlanta that I didn’t like seeing: abandoned houses, dilapidated streets, people standing on the corners doing “street business.” I started to worry. I tried reaching out to other schools by writing the deans…in a last ditch effort to get in to a school that I considered to be “good,” maybe not Harvard or Princeton good, but good.
I hand wrote letters to several different Freshman Deans, though the only ones I remember were to the Freshman Dean at the University of Georgia in Athens (no response). I also wrote a letter to the Dean of Freshmen at Emory University in South Decatur telling him that my sisters attended there and that I was trying to be a part of the Freshman class of 98. I knew Emory was a good school, but because I had put all of my eggs in the Ivy League basket, I missed the application deadlines. I really poured my heart into that letter and included transcripts and SAT scores to back me up. The dean actually responded to me, saying that there might be a chance that I could be able to join the Emory class of 1998. I was excited. I waited…and waited, but finally got one more correspondence. Unfortunately, the Freshman class was packed to the brim. The Dean advised me to attend another school and try the transfer process the second semester. Things were looking pretty grim.
In the end I took Morehouse up on the full-tuition scholarship that they offered. It looked like I was going to be a Man of Morehouse, at least for one semester.