I’ve written in this blog several times about my painful childhood with an alcoholic mother and father in prison. By the time I was six, I was a loner. I already knew I was going to have to take care of myself—no one else was going to do it. In high school, I was working twenty hours a week to earn enough money to get by. That meant that I didn’t do very well in school. When I graduated, counselors recommended I not go to college: I wasn’t intelligent enough.
I accepted my advisors’ judgment but went to college anyway. I lived within commuting distance of the University of California in Berkeley, and the tuition for a state resident was a little over fifty dollars a semester. I continued working half time while a college student. I didn’t expect to do well. After all, those who knew best told me I wasn’t very bright. My grades were mediocre but high enough for me to graduate.
Immediately after graduation, I enlisted in the army to go to the Army Language School. Languages fascinated me. I had taught myself French and Italian as a child, took four years of Latin in high school, and studied German in college. At the Army Language School, I put in for Chinese, a language that had always fascinated me. Instead, the school taught me Vietnamese. After a year of intensive training, I graduated first in my class and was assigned to the National Security Agency (NSA). Once in the Washington, D.C. area, I enrolled at Georgetown to study Chinese.
Years later, my thirst for education overcame my good judgment once again. I knew I wasn’t very smart, but I wanted to learn. So I applied to the George Washington University to earn a master’s degree in Government. The university admitted me as a provisional student since my undergraduate grades were not the best. To my surprise, I was an exemplary student. I sailed through the coursework, outdid the younger students, and graduated with honors. The university encouraged me to go on for the doctorate which I earned in record time and again graduated with honors. Turned out I wasn’t so dumb after all.
I know now that I never was dumb. Stupid boys don’t teach themselves foreign languages and learn to play the piano without lessons. But necessity taught me to be pragmatic. Eating was more important than getting good grades.
I’ve never stopped studying. It is more important to me today than ever before.