Encouragement for Those Getting a Late Start

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It is not necessarily the case that someone with a slow beginning cannot be successful. In this writing I want to talk to you about the path one person took from the back woods of the deep South to the research laboratory. It is about someone, myself, who did very poorly in high school, was too immature to start college after high school, and whose family could not afford one dime for college. This "confession" is about taking advantage of opportunity and earning one's way. If you have determination and persistence, and a willingness to study, learn, work, and produce, you too can succeed.

For myself, I was a late-bloomer so my path was definitely not direct. I could not handle college prep in high school and was unable to pass an arithmetic test mid-way through my junior year. Thankfully, my mother got me together with a teacher from Greece. He took me under his wing and he did much more than educate me in math. He worked with the whole person. Good teachers do far more than just turn the crank of another course. This is something that I've become increasingly aware of since I also teach now, at the undergraduate and graduate levels. After this superb teacher got through with me, I made an A in his course in business arithmetic. The next year, my senior year in high school, I took algebra again and made another A. Even with that success, I was too immature to start college right after high school. I was too poor anyway, and my parents could no way afford to help. They came from the Depression Era and World-War II and did not have a chance to even get their GED until late in life. While they were always encouraging of our education, they themselves never had the opportunity.

After high school I enlisted in the Air Force. While in the Air Force. I grew up a lot, especially during my 2-year tour in Holland. Thanks to the patience and maturity of Holland's people, I came of age. While in the Air Force I saved money, attended a few college courses, and earned a scholarship. The military even today has one version or the other of the G.I. Bill, although it has gone by many names over the years. This is one of the nice things about the military. You can earn a scholarship by contributing cash up to a certain limit and then they provide matching funds. This is an exceptionally good deal. You can take advantage of that scholarship to go to college.

When my tour of duty in the enlisted corps was over, I started college. Because I knew I had not done well in high school, I went to junior college first and earned an associates degree in electronics engineering technology. This not only gave me a good educational foundation but it also yielded work credentials. Immediately after junior college I went to a four-year university and earned a bachelor's in electrical engineering. Those two degrees took six years of full-time study, 12 months out of the year. Plus, it was necessary to work part-time. Right away, you can see what it takes to come from behind and get ahead. While I worked on the bachelor's degree, I also joined USAF's reserve officer training corps. After I was commissioned, they sent me immediately for my masters degree. That worked out very well because I had already entered graduate school as I completed the bachelor's degree. I was pretty far ahead by then and had published two papers in the peer-reviewed literature as an undergraduate. Those papers were the result of time spent in the laboratories doing a lot more than what had been assigned. Those papers helped me get accepted for USAF's Master's scholarship. After a year and one-half I graduated with a masters in computer engineering. After a total of 21.5 years in the Air Force, I departed and started to pursue a doctorate part-time, funded in part by the company that employed me. It took five years, but I managed to earn a doctorate in computer science. By now I work as a senior staff scientist for a high-technology company.

Something important about each one of those degrees is that they were all completed with no debt and with money in the bank. That is achievable, but sometimes, yes, you have to take a sidestep to earn some money first. In all of this, you should see the word "earn" and the taking advantage of opportunities. You see the path that I took to get the money together and to grow in maturity. You can certainly take advantage of opportunities in your own life, especially if you are working hard at the right things without complaining. This pays well in academic studies and in professional careers since people and organizations become attracted to you.

As you can see from my personal experiences, you should not let a slow beginning hold you back. If you are capable of a fast beginning, God has given you that gift and you should take advantage of it, not use it as an excuse to make it easy on yourself. If you do, you will not accomplish as much as someone who starts from behind and works hard to still achieve. You should always use the gifts God gave you to the best of your ability so that you provide His good to the world at large.


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