I wasn’t what you would call a shining star in high school. I didn’t much see the point. Didn’t really know what I wanted to do with my life. I’ve always liked to learn, but I’ve often found that as soon as someone starts trying to teach me something, even something I am ostensibly interested in, I lose all motivation. I’ve never been much for authority.
I squeaked my way through high school and managed to get accepted to the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. I was possessed by the delusion that I was smart enough to avoid classes altogether, cram the night before the midterms and finals, and still skate by. I was wrong.
I lasted one semester at UNC-Wilmington before I was adrift in the real world. I stayed in Wilmington, working odd jobs and generally trying to figure out what I wanted out of this life. I bounced around for a while, telling people I was working on the Great American Novel while spending a lot of time sleeping.
And then I saw a movie. Not a very good one: “Bringing Out the Dead,” starring Nicolas Cage as a deranged paramedic. The film certainly didn’t do anything to glamorize the profession, but I’ve always been odd and I found it fascinating. I decided I wanted to become a paramedic.
I read everything I could on the profession, becoming more and more interested, and when I looked into how, exactly, one becomes a paramedic, I discovered that community college was the way to go. Now, as someone who had never been a good student, I was somewhat nervous about taking classes of any sort, but I choked down the fear and enrolled in the Emergency Medical Technician-Basic course at Cape Fear Community College.
To my astonishment, when I was truly motivated and determined, I was a good student, and I passed the course with flying colors. I learned that Wake Technical Community College in Raleigh had a two-year paramedic course, and I decided to return to Raleigh and pursue my future there.
I enrolled at Wake Tech, but I was quickly overtaken with an idea. I had shown myself capable of being a good student — should I try to go to a four-year university?
I made a quick decision. I would go to Wake Tech for two years and transfer to UNC-Chapel Hill. It was a long shot. UNC-Chapel Hill is a hard school to get into at the best of times, and with my spotty record and unspectacular aptitude, it was possible it wouldn’t work out. But I decided I had to try.
So, for two years, I put my all into school. I only got one B while I was at Wake Tech, excelling at every class and, along the way, realizing another calling: journalism.
I was at Wake Tech on September 11, 2001, the day I became very interested in the news. I would spend hours between classes in the Wake Tech library reading magazines and newspapers and becoming obsessed not just with the information they provided but by the people who provided it. I wanted to be one of those people.
My advisor at Wake Tech encouraged me and made me the editor of Wake Tech’s newsletter. I worked with the school to make sure I was on the right track to transfer into UNC’s journalism program, if they would have me. I had teachers who took time with me, enjoyed my enthusiasm, talked to me as equals before and after class, and made me feel as though I was worthwhile and had something to offer.
I was accepted by UNC-Chapel Hill and entered its journalism program. I’ve been practicing the craft ever since. And yet, I’ve never felt as though UNC was really my alma mater. I have reserved that honor for Wake Tech.
I felt alone, adrift, and lost in the world when I was younger. Community college connected me, helped me find my mooring, and gave me direction. And that is something I can never forget.
When EducationNC decided to start covering community colleges, Mebane asked me how I felt about it. I told her that community college was one of the only things that I felt unequivocally good about. Well, that and dessert. I have nothing bad to say about dessert.
You will notice that everything I’ve written is far different than the news I usually write for EducationNC. With this, I launch my new column. Let’s call it Grumblings and Rumblings. I plan to write more of the insider stuff I learn about the education world, give you my analysis of what’s going on and what you should know, and raise the curtain a bit on what may seem cut and dry but is usually far more nuanced.
I hope you will read each week, tell me what you think, let me know what I’m doing wrong or right, and help me deepen the conversation about education in North Carolina.