As readers of this blog will have noticed, I’ve had a rough life. For thirteen years, I trundled between Vietnam and the world (the U.S.) and faced life-threatening situations on the battlefield and elsewhere. Later I went through lung cancer that damned near killed me. Some credit me with courage and tenaciousness. Not really. I’m just stubborn.
My mulish obstinacy started in my childhood. With an alcoholic mother and a father in prison, I was left on my own. I learned how to forage for food. I got part-time jobs to buy necessities like clothing. I taught myself to play the piano and to speak foreign languages. It was up to me. Nobody was going to help me. I learned not to rely on anyone else. If I had a need, I had to meet it.
My grades in school were so poor that counselors advised me not to go to college—I wasn’t bright enough. I did it anyway. I enrolled in the University of California at Berkeley, close enough to home that I could commute. The tuition was $58 a semester for a state resident. I found a way to earn it with part-time jobs. Working twenty hours a week while attending classes, my grades were mediocre. I couldn’t attend my own graduation because I was in the university hospital with pneumonia due to exhaustion.
Then I enlisted in the army to go to the Army Language School for Chinese. They taught me Vietnamese instead. That changed my life.
Years later, after the Vietnam war, I decided to go to graduate school. Advisors at the George Washington University counselled me not to try—my undergraduate grades suggested I wasn’t smart enough. I did it anyway. While in school, I was working full time at a demanding job and taking care of a wife and four children. Friends suggested I was unwise to push myself so hard. I didn’t listen.
Throughout graduate school, I maintained a straight-A average and graduated with honors. I now could call myself Dr. Glenn. More important, I discovered for the first time that I wasn’t stupid after all.