The writing course I took my first semester at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill must have been required. I was 20 years old and I thought I already knew just about everything I needed to know.
All kidding aside, I really did know one or two things. After graduating from high school I had worked a summer reporting sports for The Charlotte News and I had worked 20 months as a journalist in the Navy after I finished boot camp and went to sea.
Didn’t that make me a professional? Sort of? Nevertheless, I worked hard on the first paper I wrote for class, and the second.
I got the first one back when I turned in the second paper. My first grade was an “F.” I worked even harder on the third paper and when I turned it in, I got the second one back. It was an “F”, too.
At that point I went to see the instructor, not to whine about my grades, no, I just wanted him to show me an “A” or “B” paper. I wanted to see what one looked like. Just how good were the other people in my class? How far was I was missing the mark?
The instructor didn’t show me a paper with a high grade. Instead, he said to me, “Mr. Stith, if you knew how to write when you took my class you wouldn’t have needed to take my class.”
Then I understood. Perfectly. And I relaxed. I still tried to do decent work. I checked my spelling. I turned in my papers on time. But I stopped sweating it.
As the weeks went by my grades improved — a “D” and then a couple of “C’s,” a “B.” And then “A’s.” My final grade for the course was “A.”
Under his tutelage, according to him, I had learned to write.
Coming Friday: The Ice Cream Officer