I was born blessed with the ability to be a good test taker. From my kindergarten placement test all the way through my ACT and SAT tests, I was fortunate to score high enough to open doors for me that wouldn't have otherwise been opened. I was "that guy" who loved taking tests (I still do - I can't pass up a test of any sort that pops up on my timeline). Be it a multiple choice test or an essay (as most of you reading this know, I've proven I can scribble on for pages about virtually nothing), I was always happy to take tests. I would like to credit a strong work ethic and a dogged determination to be the best, but the reality is it is just something that I was lucky enough to be born with.
As good as I was at test taking, I was equally awful about homework and studying. I didn't have the time or the patience for these trivialities. There were video games to play, baskets to shoot and as I entered college, beer to drink. Besides, why study or turn in assignments when I knew I could do well enough on the tests to get through my courses with acceptable grades. And so, for the first 13 years of my schooling career, I coasted through with average grades but great test scores.
My easy ride came to a screeching halt my first year at the University of Minnesota. I had managed to survive Apple Valley High School and two years of Gustavus with acceptable - but not great - grades without a ton of effort. Now that I was at the U and declared myself as a Geography and Urban Planning major, however, I learned that I needed to be proficient in a foreign language in order to graduate. I had taken four years of German in High School and so figured this was going to be my easiest path to fulfilling the requirement. I took a placement test (yay!), did well on it and was advised to take Level 3 German, meaning I would only need a few classes before my requirement was satisfied. So, I signed up for the class and arrived for my first day convinced I could slack and fake my way through this class and simply test my way out at the end. Five minutes into the first class I realized I had made a pretty major miscalculation. The professor, along with the 10 or so other students in the class, spoke nothing but German for the entire 75 minute class. I slumped lower and lower in my seat trying to avoid being noticed and dragged into a conversation that I was only comprehending a small amount of. When the lecture mercifully ended, I immediately went to the registar's office and dropped the class.
My German career was over, but now I needed a different path to fill my foreign language requirement. I flipped through the course catalog and discovered that beginning Latin was the only other language course that fit into my schedule. I wasn't thrilled about the choice, but decided to give it a shot. After the first three or four classes, I was convinced I had made a brilliant decision. We were learning nothing but simple vocabulary and I aced my first two quizzes and test. It was at this point that I determined that this class was large enough that my absence wouldn't be noticed if I were to miss an occasional class. I also realized that if I continued to breeze through the tests, I didn't really have to turn in the tedious homework assignments. After all, tests were 80% of my grade. If I did well enough on them and turned in a half of my assignments, I could probably pull out a "B" without really giving much of an effort. So, accordingly, I began to attend class less and less and turn in fewer and fewer assignments. By the time the final came around, my grade had dropped to a C-. I wasn't worried, however, as the final exam was 50% of my grade and I would be easily able to pull up to an acceptable "B" by doing well on the test. So, as was my ritual, I spent about 30 minutes flipping through my text book and showed up to take the final.
Things went south in a hurry. Two questions into the test I realized I had gravely misjudged how "simple" the class was. As it turns out, there are much deeper levels to learning Latin (and any language, I'm sure) than simply translating the rough meaning of words. There are suffixes and declensions and conjugations and tenses - future, perfect, imperfect, and future perfect among them. I was totally and completely lost. Question after question and page after page I sunk deeper into despair as it became perfectly obvious that for the first time in my life I was going fail this class in spectacular fashion. After about 20 minutes, while my disposition morphed from confident to confused to utter despair, I gave up, turned in my barely filled in exam and sheepishly headed for the exit.
I began walking across campus in a complete daze. At least I think I began walking across campus in a complete daze - the entire experience had so discombobulated and rattled me that I remember very little of my actual actions. My entire concept of what was required of me to excel, get a college degree, get a great job and live my dream middle class life had gone up in flames in 20 short minutes, reducing me to a confused, depressed and extremely panicked mess of emotions. I wanted nothing more than to hop on a bus, go home and wallow in my misery. And so, with my mind in million places except on where I was going, I stepped out into the road to cross and was immediately slammed into by a car exiting the interstate.
Thankfully, excepting a slight bump and scrape on my knee where I hit the license plate (or where it hit me, depending on how you look at it), I was unhurt. The collision had knocked me first onto the hood and then back onto the street. More embarrassed than anything (the first thing I did while still on the ground was check the crossing light which indeed confirmed that I had stepped out against a red light) and still dizzy from the epic failure I had just submitted, I got up and limped to curb. The poor woman who slammed into me was beside herself, wailing and convinced she had most certainly killed me. Several other cars screeched to a halt and jumped out to assist the tragedy as well, all of which just added to my growing sense of embarrassment. It took several minutes for me to convince the poor lady and the other witnesses that 1) I was alive and 2) she did not need to call 911 and 3) she had done nothing wrong and the accident was my fault. I felt bad for it later (and still kind of do), but I finally sternly said, "I"M OK!!! AND I'M SORRY!!!" before leaving the well intentioned driver and concerned witnesses in the street while I gimped on my slightly injured knee across the intersection and hobbled onto the bus which was now stuck in the traffic problems I created by throwing myself into traffic. I slunk into an empty seat and silently urged the bus to begin moving before an ambulance or police arrived and I would be forced to recount the whole embarrassing ordeal again in excruciating detail. Fortunately, my pleas were answered and after about five minutes traffic began moving and I safely exited the scene of the accident.
A good moral of the story would be that I learned how important hard work, attendance and studying are and changed my slothful ways. My lesson learned, I buckled down, studied hard and received nothing but "A"s going forward. When this story is made into an ABC Afterschool Special, that's how it will end. It's a much more fulfilling message than the reality. So, yeah, let's go with that.