Be Careful When You Give Advice To Young People



Despite the fact that I had a wife and two teenage children to support when I retired from the Air Force, I was determined to go to college.

I had to. I really didn't have much choice.

I was 41 at the time and there was a fire in my insides that had been smoldering there ever since I was 15.

It happened like this:

I loved science classes right from the first day I was old enough to pronounce the word. There were other subjects that I enjoyed as well, but nothing topped my love of science.

During my junior year in high school we were given career forms and told to complete them for an interview we were going to have with an English teacher who doubled as a counselor.

It took no time at all for me to fill mine out. I had made up my mind to be a chemist.

When my turn came with our surrogate counselor, I sat down at one end of a long oak table and politely handed over my form.

It came sailing right back down the table at me.

"Oh, no, no, no," our not-quite-a-counselor said as the form spun around and around across smoothly polished oak.

"No? "

"No, Thomas. You cannot be a chemist."

"But, why not?"

"You're colorblind, Thomas. You could not possibly pass all those quantitative and qualitative analysis courses."

"Oh, I see. Well, I suppose I'll be a physicist then."

"Impossible. Same reason."

"A biologist?"

"Out of the question. Impossible."

"Well," I asked, stunned by the discovery that the bottom had just dropped out of my world. "What should I be then?"

"An English teacher," she replied triumphantly.

The upshot of all that was I didn't go to college at all. During my 21 years in the Air Force, however, I couldn't stay away from higher education. I earned over 90 semester hours taking correspondence courses and going to evening classes when I could.

I even took a lot of science courses, but only by correspondence because they were never offered in the evening by nearby universities. That meant no lab courses.

One of the things I learned in my 21 years in the Air Force was that if you wanted something badly enough, and you were willing to work, you could do almost anything.

So, in my 40s, I majored in chemistry, physics, and biology, took all those lab courses I "could not possibly pass," made an A in every last one of them, graduated from college and taught chemistry and physics for eight years.

In all, I taught for over 22 years in civilian life, and never, not ever, did I use that horrible word "impossible" when a student talked to me about his or her goals.

They say that when someone says or thinks something nasty about you after you're dead, you turn over in your grave.

I'm certain that if someone put a fan belt around that long-dead high school counselor back in Connecticut and hooked her up to a generator, they could light the city of Los Angeles with the power she would generate just from my thoughts alone.

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