When I graduated from high school, advisors discouraged me from going to college. My grade point average was poor, they pointed out, and they didn’t honestly think I was intelligent enough to make it in higher education. I didn’t dispute them. I didn’t believe that I was very smart. But I was determined to get a college education, no matter what.
I had had a rough childhood, My mother was an alcoholic, and my father was in and out of prison. As soon as I was able, I got part time jobs to be sure I’d have enough to eat and clothes to wear. Doing well in school was the least of my concerns, and I accepted the judgment that I wasn’t very intelligent.
My parents, despite their faults, were educated. My father was a lawyer, my mother a school teacher. I knew from their example and from watching other families with children my age that a college education made a major difference in how much one could earn and, more important, the quality of life.
Most important was that I had a thirst to learn. I had known since I was six that I was born to write, but there was a whole world of knowledge I needed to have to be able to have things to write about. College was simply a necessity.
I knew that writers never had any money. So I cast about for a profession and hit on music. I had a natural talent for music, and it didn’t require the kind of intelligence other professions did. So I majored in music in college.
The University of California, Berkeley, was only a short bus trip away from Oakland where I lived. And the tuition was only a little over fifty dollars a semester. My high school grades were just barely good enough for me to be admitted. I could work half time (twenty hours a week) and earn enough money to pay for tuition and books and keep myself fed and housed, albeit at a poverty level. I went for it.
More next time.