Learning about learning.
The second quirk of fate that helped me achieve success in college was that my first Freshman English teacher was an elderly New Zealand expatriate whose class I’d selected purely by chance. Mrs. Mckay was kindly, encouraging, and took a special interest in me. She told me that my writing assignments of required weekly themes were exceptional and she further told me that I had a talent for writing. I was stunned. No teacher, save Mrs. Bayless, my high school English and Drama teacher had ever encouraged me to do anything academic. Mrs. Mckay even had one of my themes published in the school paper. I worked beyond my limitations in her class and earned an “A.” At the same time I was writing papers for my Psychology classes and further developing my writing skills. Upon completing my first semester at BYU I attempted to register for her English 102 class to more of the same. But since Mrs. McKay was neither the holder of a Ph.D. nor a regular possessor of the English Department, she was given classes only after all the regular professors’ classes were filled.
I had discovered long ago that since I was not as academically astute as my fellow students, I would have to be more street wise and in this instance figure a way to enroll in her class surreptitiously. I learned that one could drop and add classes within the first five days of the semester with no fees or penalties, but to simply add classes during that period cost additional late fees. So I registered for any English 102 class but did not attend not ppan to attend the class for which I'd registered. Rather, I stayed in contact with Mrs. McKay and once she was given her overload class assignment, I simply dropped the one I’d enrolled in and added hers.
My self confidence was at an all time high. Despite the fact that my other class grades were C’s and B’s I ended my freshman year with the best grades I’d ever received and was promptly removed from probation and enrolled as a regular student. After the close of spring semester I begged my parents to allow me to stay for summer school using the premise that I needed to make up classes due to my entering school on academic probation. They agreed and I took a few psychology classes and entered my second year as a full-fledged fulltime college sophomore on track to graduate. I received an “A” in an upper division Psychology class that I'd taken during the summer. My Psych 101 class had earned me a “C” the previous semester but during the summer I’d taken several upper division Psychology courses and actually enjoyed school for the first (and possibly only) time in my life. As I had discovered, upper division psychology classes requird research and writing. I was still not much more than an average reader but my writing skills had improved dramatically during that first year.
My freshman year was clearly one of transition. I flew home at Christmas and was surprised at how everything appeared to have changed - yet ramained the same. My parents gave me a surprise 18th birthday party a month early and my friends were mostly gone to the military or college or were working in the steel mills. I did not have any sense as to where life would take me, nor what adventures life had in store for me but I knew from that moment I would never return to Clairton to live.