If words could be tattooed onto a brain then it happened to me on this month five decades ago.
A month before graduating from high school I met with the guidance counselor to discuss my college options. Mr. Sage, not his real name, was the go-to guy. I knocked on the glass window of his office door with the bold label, School Counselor. I shuffled into his small office. He stood, smiled and with his hand gestured that I take a seat in front of his large wood desk.
“Mr. Sage, where should I go to college?” I asked to state the purpose of our meeting.
He stood and turned around to face a four drawer oak filing cabinet. Since Nelson was in the middle of the alphabet, he guessed my records might be in the third drawer. He pulled it open. Watching his fingers walk across the top of the file folder tabs he spotted my name a couple inches from the front. It was probably after Nabor and just before Noble, fellow classmates. He lifted it out and returned to his seat.
Just six pages did not seem like much to capture the past four years of my life. He studied each page to divine my intellectual potential. After a few moments, he closed the folder and gently laid it on his desk. What he said next is still tattooed on my brain.
“Hmm, I wouldn’t bother,” said Mr. Sage slowly. I was confused. What did he mean?
“In a month you will probably be among the 350 graduating seniors.”
Probably? He opened my file again and sited a rational data point to justify his recommendation, “You rank seventh in your class (that was not a surprise)… from the bottom (that was).” An awkward pause followed.
“So, Mr. Nelson, why have you done so poorly in your classes?” I knew. It was not an excuse; it was the truth.
“This school has not taught me what I wanted to learn… what I needed to know….”
“What did you want to learn?” he interrupted. Mr. Sage leaned forward; he was curious.
“I want to know how to change the world.” I should have stopped there. “You have not taught me how to do it.” He did not deserve the blame for the school’s failure. What I said next was really unnecessary.
“This school gets an F in my book,” I declared. We both sat back in our chairs, now made uncomfortable by my words.
Mr. Sage and I knew that the school failed to teach me what I needed and I failed to give the school what it expected. However, I knew I was not a failure.
There was nothing more to discuss. Mr. Sage smiled. The conversation was over.
“Good luck, Mr. Nelson.”
I smiled politely, stood up and stepped towards the door. A few minutes earlier I entered his office a hapless kid looking for someone to tell me what to do. Now, I knew.
Rev. Dr. Toby Nelson, BA, M.Div, D.Min.
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