Why I didn’t study

David Epps's picture

This is a confession, of sorts, one of which I am not proud.

All through elementary school and through most of junior high, I was an A and B (mostly A) student. Beginning in the 9th grade, the grades began to slip — well, “plummet” would be a better word.

My coaches, teachers, and, especially, my parents converged on me from all sides demanding to know what was wrong with me. If drugs had been around at the time, I’m sure they would have suspected that I was doing drugs. They would have been wrong.

My father thought that I was obsessed with a girl and that was the reason. Well, I was, but that wasn’t the reason either.

Somewhere early on in high school, I decided that I wanted to go to one of two colleges. My choices were Emory and Henry College in Emory, Va. The other was Tennessee Wesleyan College in Athens, Tenn.

I devoured the catalogs of both schools and there were several attractions: both were church schools, United Methodist, to be specific. Both were relatively small schools within a couple of hours of my home. Both fielded a football team and I thought I might be capable of making the team of either school. In fact, after a time, I really didn’t want to attend any other school.

The problem, as it often is, was money. In those days there was no state-sponsored, lottery-funded scholarship for students with a B average and above. Both schools were private schools and, even if I received some of the scholarships that the schools advertised, it wouldn’t be nearly enough.

I came from a blue-collar, working-class family. I never even considered asking my father about tuition for either of those schools — I simply assumed that the kind of money I would need was not available.

So, in the flawed and short-sighted thinking of a teenage boy, I decided that it didn’t matter what kind of grades I made in high school. I knew that, if I graduated from Dobyns-Bennett High School and made a decent score on the ACT, I would be admitted to nearby East Tennessee State University where tuition was $85 per quarter for in-state students.

I never shared that thinking with anyone, even when pressed hard by coaches, teachers, and parents.

After several disappointing test grades, my American history teacher referred to me as stupid. I retorted that, if I wanted to, I could make the honor roll. She countered and repeated that I was too stupid.

The next six weeks, I cracked the books and made the honor roll. Having made my point, I never cracked the books much again, thereby affirming my stupidity.

I didn’t hate school, didn’t even dislike it. I greatly enjoyed high school — I just saw no point in studying. I knew I was bright, all the standardized tests scores said so.

After graduating with a mediocre “C” average, I headed to ETSU and, as I figured, they had to take me, which they did.

My first quarter at ETSU was paid for by a 90-day loan that I negotiated at a local bank. I paid the loan back from wages from a part-time minimum-wage job and did the same for the second quarter.

However, I discovered that being bright was not enough, no matter what the standardized tests said. By not studying in high school, I developed no study habits at all. It caught up with me in the middle of the second quarter.

Facing flunking out and the military draft, I withdrew from college and joined the Marine Corps. My dad was devastated and believed that I would never return to school.

After a few years of Marine Corps training and discipline, I returned to college and graduated cum laude (with honors). Later, I would earn a seminary degree with a 3.6 GPA. In the long run, it all worked out well, even if I did make things much tougher on myself than was necessary.

My parents, who are gone now, never heard the story of why my brain seemed to stop working in high school. I assumed that, if I told them, they might blame themselves and feel badly about my not going to the schools of my choice. Besides, it wasn’t their fault — it was mine.

Later, when I had both an Honorable Discharge and the G.I. Bill and had the ability to make the choice, I chose East Tennessee State University. I never played college football, although I did make the East All Star Football Team as offensive center at Quantico in 1972 where we won the East-West Championship Game 31-30.

If I could, I would say to those coaches, teachers, and parents, “You were right. I should have studied. Life would have been much easier.”

Life, they say, is what happens when you are making your plans. Life, for the most part, has been good. Still, I wish I had studied. My American history teacher was right.

[David Epps is the pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King, 4881 Hwy. 34 E., Sharpsburg, GA 30277. Services are held Sundays at 8:30 and 10 a.m. (www.ctkcec.org). He is the bishop of the Mid-South Diocese (www.midsouthdiocese.org). He may be contacted at frepps@ctkcec.org.]

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