I told them … “No problem. I have it all under control.”
They were understandably not convinced.
A little background reveals that the reason I was so low on credits is that I had serious injuries in my Freshman and Junior years that found me unable to take courses like “typing” or “gym” or anything that required physical exertion. Consequently, for at least two years I was at school 6 hours a day but only taking 3 hours of coursework. Nobody ever checked up on that and all I thought was, “FREEDOM.” All that free time was spent playing euchre, paper football, and hob-knobbing with friends who only got 1 hour off every day.
The school board really had pulled the panic button and so scared my Foster family. Maybe they thought I was going to fail a couple of courses in that last semester? I ended up with 18 credits which was the exact number needed in order to graduate. My GPA? A stellar 1.82
All those gym courses from my Freshman and Senior years had saved me.
In June I graduated having passed one uncertain class and finishing a nose hair ahead of the required GPA.
College Graduation was a similar matter of just getting out by the skin of my teeth.
At the beginning of College, I was no better of a student than I was at the end of High School. In retrospect, I viewed Christian College as just a glorified summer church camp. That went on for the first couple of years wherein I failed more credits (classes) than I passed. I had taken it upon myself to major in the arduous degrees of Foosball, Donkey Kong, and assorted hijinks. Most of those classes were held in the student center where the radio blasted Rock -n- Roll whenever it was open. I did become quite accomplished in Foosball where in a mixed doubles campus tournament my partner and I finished second. (I had a wicked push shot from the front line.) I mastered the Donkey Kong computer game routinely getting past the top level. AND nobody excelled me in hijinks. Indeed, it became a standing joke that if anything untoward happened on campus I was sure to be called into the Dean’s office to be grilled about what I knew. Along the way, I learned that at some point I had been put on a secret probation list. I kid you not.
It wasn’t until the end of my Jr. year it began to slowly dawn on me that I might not graduate if I didn’t kick things into high gear. I began to roll. I took a summer psychology course that would transfer that summer while working 7o hours a week and then in that last year I took 44 credits. There were several classes that were meeting at the same time that found me registered in both classes because I needed to expunge a former failing grade. Graduation required 124 credits to get out. It looked like I’d be graduating with exactly 124 credits. For years afterward I would have nightmares that I failed one of those courses that final year.
However, in March 1982 two months before college graduation in May, the Dean of Students (Rocky Kent) calls me in and tells me … “There is some doubt that we will allow you to graduate despite your big push this last year since you have not attended chapel in the years you have been here.”
Now, Rocky really was a good chap. A quite likable fellow even if he was the target of a good bit of ribald teasing. Being on friendly terms with “the Rock” the following conversation ensued;
Rocky — “That doesn’t matter. You were required.”
Bret — “So, after I’ve spent all this money and effort you’re suggesting you’re not going to let me graduate? I’m sure there are some lawyers who could make some money off of this scenario.”
Rocky — “Tell you what… if you promise to attend chapel the last two months before you graduate we will call it even and let you graduate.”
Bret — “That’s an awfully high price you are driving there but in order to show that I’m willing to go above and beyond … you’ve got a deal.” Those last two months of mandatory chapels were a raking of my soul. You have no idea how boring Wesleyans can be in their chapel services.
Each time I responded with that phrase she became more and more adamant as seen in the increase of the volume and the pitch of her voice. One would have thought that we were negotiating over the possibility of her losing her virginity.
I finally received my three degrees with a B- average but she was so bitchy about it she had to scrawl the word “unique” on my record. I always laugh at that because I seriously doubt that anyone ever saw her scribble of “unique” on my records.
Finally, there was Seminary. This became another skin of the teeth moment in terms of Graduation. Grades or credits here were not the problems. I graduated with plenty of credits to spare and I had a solid 3.4 GPA. Because of taking on employment with United Airlines in Columbia, SC I added an extra semester to my three years taking two easy/cheesy courses that last semester. I filed all the requisite papers and I was all in the chute to graduate that following May.
However, I hit a snag. It wasn’t chapel this time. I had got a signed excuse from the Dean of Students because of my work schedule. (Chapel in Seminary wasn’t a lick better than Chapel in undergrad.) The snag I hit this time was named Dr. Jay Sensinig. Dr. Jay had shown up my final year to take over what is now called the practicum program of Seminary. When I was in seminary it was called “Field Education.” Here was a course that wasn’t a course. One did not pay for the credits of Field Ed. One did not have assigned classes for Field Education but I found out too late that, due to Dr. Jay’s improvement of the system when he took over one did have to turn in paperwork. Now, in my defense, I did not spend very much time on campus after the 1st year and as such, I wasn’t really tuned into new requirements. Therein lie the snag. I had turned in zero Field Education reports and without those Field Education reports, I was told, I could not graduate.
So, I did the natural thing. I went to see Dr. Jay. Dr. Jay was adamant that I turn in three years of Field Education reports. Now, you can ask my wife, but trust me when I tell you I just don’t have a memory for the kind of busywork that the Psychologist Dr. Jay was asking of me. I had been busy in the Church I had attended but in terms of providing the lesson plans for three years, and the detailed work explaining my going door to door evangelism, or teaching children’s Sunday School, or serving on the Church’s steering committee well that was completely gone.
So, I had to write a novel for Dr. Jay. You know, historical fiction? I made up lesson plans (who remembers what they taught in children’s Sunday School from three years ago? For that matter, who makes up a lesson plan when teaching 8-year-olds?), I gave the highlights I could remember from my door to door Evangelism Explosion work, I gave what info I could for other things but some of those things were still pretty sensitive as the Church I served went through some very hard times and I didn’t want to be spilling that stuff everywhere …. especially for the shrink Dr. Jay.
I finally put it all together and set up a time for a meeting up with him. I sat it all on his desk and he let me know that it wasn’t satisfactory and that quite without looking at it. It seems he didn’t like my attitude. I know … hard to believe right?
And so there I was ready to walk in May of 88 but Dr. Jay would not approve and so I didn’t graduate in 1988. Nor in 1989 as he was still holding it and I was now 6 months into being called to Pastor a church. Finally, in 1990 he relented and gave his stamp of approval.
Later I found out that there had been a confab meeting about what to do about my status and my degree. I found out because the chap who had been the Dean of Students (Dr. Joe Parker — a great bloke) had taken the Southern Baptist pulpit 9 miles up the road from where I was serving in an Independent Presbyterian Church. Joe and I worked together on joint community projects and services along with a chap from the Episcopal Church and a fellow from the PCA work up the road. Joe was also still working as the Dean of Students when my case came up as to whether or not they were going to give me my sheepskin. There was a great deal of anguish coming from Dr. Jay (did I tell you he was a shrink by trade?) and from a chap named Lee Toomey who ran the work service program on campus. Lee complained that I was less than enthusiastic and cooperative when it came to my giving the school free labor that I was informed existed after I moved from Maine to South Carolina. Lee was also in charge of parking and I had a bad habit of parking in the wrong spots. Lee didn’t like that. Mea culpa, mea culpa, maxima mea culpa.
So, those were two strong voices speaking out against me being conferred. However, I had the office of the Dean of students speaking for me. Dr. Earl McQuay was the senior guy in the office and Dr. McQuay had been part of a student small group that I led for one year in Seminary. Dr. McQuay was a dear man who had suffered the loss of an adult son years prior. Some of that loss came out in our small study group and we wept with one another. Both Dr. Parker and Dr. McQuay were genuine friends though each was a generation older than me and they stuck with me though Joe Parker told me that “it was a close call. I didn’t know if you were going to make it.”
So, in 1990, 30 months after I completed my course work I was finally given my Seminary degree.