So anyway, my freshman year was over and I was in rough shape academically. Not only was my GPA sitting at a paltry 2.00, but because of the Renaissance Art fiasco I had accumulated a mere 9 credits. I started wondering if maybe I wasn't college material after all and I probably would have thought long and hard about dropping out were it not for one thing: basic training.
As you probably already know, I had enlisted in the Army Reserves about a month before school started. I did this mostly for the college money as my father had informed me that there was no way he was going to just pay my whole way through college and I figured there was no other way. I enlisted under the "split option" program which means you do your basic training (aka boot camp) and your job school in the summers between school years. That meant that as soon as I finished my first year of college, I had about two weeks off, then headed down to lovely Fort Dix, New Jersey for basic training.
Basic training would have been a tremndous shock under any circumstances but after spending a year in college getting drunk every weekend and sleeping in most mornings when I didn't have class, well...let's just say it was quite a wake up call. While my classmates headed off to summer vacations or internships, I spent two months getting screamed at, being woken up at 0330 every morning, shining boots, doing push ups in the rain, running 5 miles, learning how to shoot various weapons and basically just trying to get through one day at a time. When you look back at it, it never seems that bad but when you're right in the middle of it things looked a whole lot worse. Everything changed for me about 2 or 3 weeks in. My squad had guard duty and I had drawn the 0200-0300 shift. When you're on guard duty you don't have much to do so most people, including myself, spend the hour writing letters to people back home. So that night I was sitting there trying to describe to people back home how much of a nightmare basic training was when it suddenly occured to me that the whole reason why I was putting myself through that was so that I could afford to get through college. And then I started thinking about my disastrous freshman year and I guess I must have realized the folly of putting myself through such hell if I wasn't going to be serious about school. Things changed for me that night. I finished basic training and went back to college with a renewed sense of purpose. I still had no idea what I wanted to do after I graduated but I figured that would work itself out, I just needed to get my grades up.
And I did. In fact, in my last three years at Franklin Pierce College I made the Dean's List every semester except one when I missed it by about a tenth of a percentage point. It's always stood as one of my proudest achievements (and I don't have many...).
Unfortunately my disastrous freshman year has always haunted me. For one thing it brought my overall GPA when I graduated down to a 2.8 which is nothing to be proud of, despite my subsequent good grades. Not only that but I was never able to make up the lost credits and ended up finishing 6 credits short of my degree which almost prevented me from graduating. Since I was 6 credits short, I had to go before a review board comprised of professors and faculty members and make a case for why I should be able to graduate with my class. I explained how I turned around my failings from freshman year and how I had completed every class needed for my degree and that the 6 credits were just electives which could easily be knocked out in a semester or two and they agreed to let me "walk". This means I would get to graduate with my classmates but instead of a degree, I would recieve a blank piece of paper. I would recieve the actual degree as soon as I finished those 2 or 3 classes. In the years that followed, I never had a problem getting hired for jobs that I'd applied for so I never bothered to finish those last couple classes. In the end, I didn't actually have to. Colleges can opt to award credits to students for military service as long it somewhat correlates to your degree. In 2003 I submitted a military "transcript" of all the training and schools I had completed with the military and asked them them to review to see if I could get a couple credits out of it. To my astonishment, they replied that what I had accomplished would easily cover my remaining handful of credits and so, a whole ten years after I graduated the first time, I finally received my degree.