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.

62ddfe19e89c71e51542a7b3fbf1eea7_carolina-tar-heels-clipart-1-unc-logo-clip-art_1050-869I 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


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