Before I even start let me state I was never a marks oriented
student. I did what I needed to get by. This
philosophy got me through High School and into my local
state collage way back in 1959. I always felt learning was one
thing and marks were another. This was my first
miscalculation. Marks are everything learning is entirely
To me people looking for marks had no problem in forgetting what
they had learned two days after the test. I however had a
distorted faith that the system would stand me in good stead if I
focused on learning. That was a major mistake number
So in September of 1959 I found myself starring down at an endless
row of blue beanies stretched all the way down the hill to Kenny
Gymnasium. It was the opening convocation of 1959 and as a
freshman studying electrical engineering at the University of
Rhode Island. I began to question if this was really a good
school for me. Even then I felt alienated by the attitudes
In those years there really was only one choice and the University
of Rhode Island was it.
I found studying difficult but managed to complete the first
semester and almost made the deans list except for flunking English.
Spelling was impossible for me so I would modify my writing to use
only those words I could spell. This of course was a disaster.
Anyway the English class was repeated I joined a theater group and
forgot about the deans list. Electrical engineering was OK but
in a foolish action I switched to Physics.
In retrospect if someone had talked to me about the switch perhaps I
would have reconsidered it but talking to students was not a URI
strong point. I did have a "advisor" but our dialog was
limited to "where do I sign". I was on my own and after having a
good physics teacher in high school I assumed the teachers in
collage would be better. This was major mistake number
3. In fact no one at URI could measure up to my high
school teacher but as this fact became clear I felt stuck in
My marks dropped. My teachers seemed more interested in
getting my spelling right than in understanding physics. I
remember one lab session where we were trying to take pictures of
water waves traveling in a tank. I added a transformer
to allow the oscillator to put more energy in a wire suspended
between two magnet poles. The pictures got much better
but when it was graded the professor gave me a D. Then added a
note "Good pictures though".
Major mistake number four was not considering the fact that being in
Physics I would need to take German. I had no use for
languages. What I really wanted to do was to understand
science but this was beyond the purview of URI. URI never
German at URI became a huge insurmountable problem. The
German teachers seemed to come right out of the gestapo. I flunked
And then there was physical chemistry. I had a issue
with Professor Parks because he gave the same exams year after year
and the fraternity could save them in their files. My answer
was to walk into one of my exams and simply write down the answers
from last years exam. Nothing else, no
calculations. I got a B on that exam but an F for the
final mark in spite of having passing grades.
ROTC was more of the the same. I thought the class started
when I arrived in the classroom and tended to carry my rifle like
a suitcase. It was easier (or so I thought). Here
again in spite of passing grades I received an F.
Years later at City College I read an article about a journalism
major who interviewed an Army general. At one point in the
interview the student told the general that "he was not one of his
Enlistees that can be ordered about" Within 6 months that
student was out of collage, drafted and stationed in Vietnam.
Even in astronomy where my 19 year old brain could not quite accept
being taught by a professor in his late 90's. It just did not
work. Another F.
In summary to my way of thinking there was no way in hell that
anyone would pay me anything for what passed as an education as
peddled by URI.
Finally after suffering for 4 years at URI I got a letter in the
mail. While my classmates were graduating I had flunked
out. I had always assumed that if the situation was really bad
someone would talk to me. This was major mistake number
five. URI did not talk to students.
What I did not know was how the system worked. Other students who
had also flunked out had an secret weapon. This was a parent
with a college degree. These parents simply sat down
with the professors and negotiated an incomplete for the mark and an
extended summer session report that the student could complete to
pull his mark up. Me with an immigrant for a a mother
and a father who died when I was 16 there was no sitting down with a
1963 was really a bad year to flunk out as it put me in the front
line of the draft for the Vietnam war. My fellow students with
degrees were officer material.
As it turned out it was an operation I had on my knee that made the
medics rate me as a 1Y which meant I was not to be chosen if more
able people were available. Being able to walk was a big thing
to the Army.
My next step was to decide to go to California. I was used to
hitchhiking as I never had any money so I set out one morning
heading west. It took about a week but i eventuality would up
renting a room in Berkley CA. I spent the summer there and met
a Harvard student who was auditing an advanced calculus class.
This to me seemed like a tremendous waste of money and when I asked
him about it he responded that when he returned to Harvard in the
fall he would take the class for real. His summer exposure
would put him ahead of all the other students.
Well the summer ended, My room went back to the original
renter and I found lodging with a group of guys working at Stamford.
They even gave me a free car. I became a shipping clerk
at $1.50 an hour but it turned out the car used a tremendous
amount of gas. I was not able to eat, pay rent and put gas in
the car. That was when I asked for a raise. "How much do you
want" the suit asked me. "$1.55 an hour" I said. "Well maybe
you should leave now he said". "OK" I answered and walked out
into the mild February weather of Mountain View California and
returned to the east coast.
Living in Rhode Island was impossible and after a little
encouragement by my NYC friends I packed what I had and moved to the
This is where I began to put my life together. With the
help of friends I tried therapy, Got a job, and was able to
live without a gas guzzling car.
I began taking classes at City College and before long had enough
credits to graduate....except German. I needed one year of
German. So out of a job like an ass I left NYC moved
with my girlfriend to Kingston, RI and registered for 1 semester of
German at URI. Major mistake number six became clear when the
professor showed up on the first day of class to announce he had
forgotten to order books for the class. We would be
taking the class without books! I dropped the class, got
a job for the summer and moved back to NYC in the fall.
My degree was mailed out after completing two semesters of German at
City College. It came 5 years after my supposed graduation
date of 1963.
After my endless string of mistakes taking courses at City College
was a breath of fresh air. They actually taught.
They had professors I could respect. My German professor
was a native German who really tried to teach
German. It was a day and night
On the other hand the world is a strange place. When i was in
High school I met a student named John. John did what I should
have done, entered URI, majored in Electrical Engineering,
Graduated on time, Went on to work in Groton, CT for electric
boat and died at the age of 65. I have spent time in the
Groton New London area and was always amazed at the pollution
there. Between Dow Chemical, EB, Pfizer and three nuclear
plants it is a very unhealthy place. As I write this John has
been dead 13 years.
So what should I have done different. Should I
as said be true to yourself or stuff it an conform to
the system. I have no idea.