Finding the right path, giving thanks to a guide
We all have people in our lives that we owe thanks to. Thanks for the successes we’ve had. Thanks for throwing us a life jacket. Thanks for guiding us to a better path. Thanks for shining a light on that path.
Sometimes it’s a Scout leader, sometimes it’s a minister, sometimes it’s military drill instructor, more often than not it’s a teacher. All too often we fail to thank those people.
I owe lots of people thanks. I’ve been blessed with mentors, benders of the twig and folks who took a moment to share their hard-earned wisdom with a callow, brash youth who likely didn’t listen well enough at the time and certainly failed to appreciate the gift they offered.
As I look back on the people who helped shape me and there were many, I owe particular thanks to one person. A person I never thanked at the time, still haven’t thanked and don’t even know where or how I would thank her today.
Fifty years ago this month, I was a returning veteran freshly enrolled at Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville. The university required all “non-traditional” students, that is veterans and student older than the traditional eighteen-year-old freshman to take a one credit hour course called Study Skills.
The university was willing to take a chance on me, but wanted to hedge its bets by making sure I learned the little tricks to help me succeed. Had the University of Illinois taken the same trouble six years earlier my life story would have been much different.
Coming out of a three-hundred-sixty student rural high school with working class parents I didn’t have a clue how to succeed in college. One academic year at U of I with that full ride scholarship and the Big U, as we all called the university, invited me to leave. Goodbye dorm room, goodbye draft deferment, hello Uncle Sam.
A few years later, with discharge papers and GI bill educational benefits in hand, beginning beard on face and trepidation in mind, I walked into college class registration where the academic adviser said, “You’re a veteran. You’ve got to take Study Skills 101.”
Hey, I’ve just spent four years being told what to do, where to go and when to get there. A one credit hour course to learn how to study wasn’t going to slow me down. Nobody was yelling at me. Nobody was trying to kill me. And I didn’t even have to get a haircut. “Ok put me down for the Thursday morning session.” It fit my schedule and didn’t interfere with other required courses or the beginning journalism courses that I needed.
A couple of days later I stroll into a small classroom. Six or eight other students and the instructor. I was the only veteran. The other students in their thirties, forties and fifties, returning to school to better their lives. SIUE was then a new, almost exclusively commuter school, drawing students from the industrial Illinois suburbs east of St. Louis.
The personable, late thirties instructor quickly charmed us. She filled us in on the little secrets that please faculty members and help students. Sit in the front row. Take notes. Ask questions. It wasn’t rocket science. It was eye opening for a kid from Sandwich, Illinois, population three thousand.
That instructor immediately became my favorite. I’d stop by her office to ask about the next semester’s course offerings, to check on possible part-time jobs, to talk about dreams.
I never told her how much I appreciated her guidance. How much I appreciated her kindness. How much I appreciated her help in navigating an unfamiliar world. She’s likely in her late eighties now and long departed SIUE for greener academic pastures so I doubt I’ll ever have the opportunity to do so in person.
Fredricka MacKenzie, this one’s for you. Thanks for helping a kid who’d stumbled more than once find the right path. Fifty years later I still remember you with fondness and gratitude.
© William L. Enyart, 2023, Reflections from the River, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Audio production by: Tom Calhoun, www.paguytom.com