Last week’s memories post, about college majors and jobs, made me think more about my college days. Much of that time has descended into the murky mists of memory, most likely never to emerge. I wondered: which courses stood out? Was there anything that I learned that I still use, or at least think about, now and then? Here’s what I came up with as my most memorable college courses (thanks to me keeping my report cards, I even have the exact titles!):
Communications in American Civilization
I took this course the first semester of my freshman year, when you may remember I was a journalism major. It was a large lecture course, taught by an older man who happened to be Dean of the Journalism School, Richard Gray. Dean Gray was very professional, and I found his lectures fascinating. I took copious notes. When the course’s first “blue book” exam happened, I was all excited — until I got my book back, with a grade of B-. With fear and trembling, I went to see Dean Gray during office hours. When I entered the hallowed office, he asked me what I wanted to talk about. I showed him the exam.
“But a B- is a good grade,” he said. “Not to me,” I answered, and to his credit, he gave me some pointers on how to improve.
Later in the course, we read “Citizen Kane” about William Randolph Hearst. I absolutely loved that book, and was happy to earn an A on the term paper we wrote in the course.
At the end of the course, Dean Gray sent my parents a letter congratulating them — I was one of 3 in the class of 120 to earn an A. I was so excited!
And then, things began to get strange. Within a month of the school year ending, I read an article in the newspaper. Dean Gray had been arrested in Florida, charged with 3 felonies in a murky incident in a men’s restroom near a Tampa beach. I was stunned! I had considered him such a paragon. Then, in November, he died at home of a heart attack. Writing this posting led me to my school memories box in the basement, where I re-discovered my clippings from the time. Guess how old that distinguished older gentleman was at the time of his death? 52 — the exact age I am now. I can’t tell you how shocking that is to me, looking at a photo of him now with his gray hair.
Life surely takes some strange turns, and many things aren’t what they seem.
After that tale, you’ll probably be happy to learn that my next story isn’t nearly as dramatic. In the school of family and consumer science, home of my eventual retail merchandising major, nutrition was a required course. This particular one was really interesting! The teacher, whose name escapes me but who was a tiny, young lady with a quiet voice and the long, permed hair so popular in the era, wasn’t overflowing with charisma. She did make the information presented interesting to me.
To this day, I remember her illustration that 2% milk is like skim milk with a pat of butter melted in it; for whole milk, add an additional pat. I should add that this horrified me so much that I only drink skim milk to this day. Once, during a college dinner at a kind woman’s home, she poured me a glass of whole milk. When she left the room, I quickly dumped my milk back into her pitcher. Heaven forbid I should drink all that fat! I also learned that each gram of fat has 9 kCals (she always spoke of kCals), while each gram of sugar or of protein has 4 kCals (I use that knowledge almost weekly at the grocery store to this day). So many things from that class return to me in a very practical way in life. I love it when that happens.
The Christian Church in New Testament Times
During my final semester at IU, I had one elective course still to choose. Wearied by the very real (to me, at least) weight of the rather heathen environment on campus, I decided to take a course on the church and the Bible. I didn’t know what I’d be getting into — at a large state school, let’s face it, there were no guarantees that this topic would be presented in a positive light — but I was very happy to learn that this course was indeed taught by a Christian, Luke Timothy Johnson. I’ve since seen books by him in various places.
The course was really interesting, as Johnson took passages I’d read over and over and analyzed them. For one paper, I remember writing about a parable told in two of the gospels, and comparing differences in the two. I found that wonderful.
Introduction to Shakespeare
I needed to choose a course to fulfill the college’s “Intensive Writing” requirement — no sweat to me, who loved writing anyway. So for this requirement, I took a Shakespeare course during my freshman year. I can’t remember the professor’s name, but he was an older man (now I’m hesitating to say that; he was probably 45!) who really knew his Shakespeare.
I’m not sure if we read everything Shakespeare wrote, but if not, we read a LOT of it. It was difficult to get into “Shakespeare mode” at first, and I remember spending a lot of time that semester at the library. I’d check out a VHS video of the play I was reading, and watch that as I listened with headphones and read along. That was a great way to facilitate understanding.
Our tests involved the teacher giving us various quotes from plays. We had to identify which play it was from, who spoke it, and what the situation was. This was quite a challenge, and I loved it. One quote that I remember to this day: “Oh most pernicious woman!” I have always remembered the word pernicious, based just on that. And for the record, Hamlet says this (no, I didn’t remember that, but thanks to the wonders of the internet …)
After I had my bachelor’s degree and was living in Birmingham, I decided to return to school for my master’s in education. Once I got back to Indiana, I learned that I still needed two more classes. So one summer, I drove down to IU Southeast twice each week to take a science class (which I’ve largely forgotten), and a World History class which I loved. It was in that class that a lot of things I’d learned over the years began to all come together and make sense.
It was a largish lecture class, and honestly I wasn’t sure the professor even knew who I was. But after the course had ended, he sent me a letter, thanking me for taking the class and saying that he’d enjoyed my papers and would be happy to serve as my advisor if I wanted to pursue grad work in history or law school. I was so honored. No matter how hard I have worked in a course, it was always really gratifying to have that noticed and appreciated. I guess real life isn’t much different!
This turned out quite a bit lengthier than I’d planned. If you’re still with me — thanks! And, what was a high school or college course that has stuck with you throughout life in some way?