I was going to get thrown out of college because I didn’t have enough money and I was stupid.
Each year, I’d borrow enough to get me through another year.
Every summer I stayed at school and took 2-3 courses. This way I could skip my senior year and avoid having to take out more loans.
But I had a problem at the end of the third year. In order to skip a year, you had to maintain a 3.0 grade point average (a “B”).
The bursar’s office told me that I did not have that average so I would not be able to graduate.
Note: the Bursar is the office that collects the money.
Zero people involved in education called me to tell me that I didn’t have enough education. The bill collector called me to tell me I was too stupid to graduate.
I had a week left before graduation day. I had no idea how I’d get another 30 or 40,000 dollars to survive another year. I just would’ve dropped out.
So I went to the professor of my Fortran class. I loved computer science at that point more than anything.
I would get into fake fights with my girlfriend just so I could walk up a hill, unlock the computer science building, use the secret pass code to get into the lab, and just sit there and program all day.
It was a way of communicating with some undiscovered universe where all my secret friends lived.
But I was bad at Fortran, a very specific programming language. I was getting a D- in the class.
The bursar’s office called me and told me I didn’t have the 3.0 GPA, “I’m sorry, but you will not be graduating next week.”
“Well, what is my GPA?
She said, completely deadpan, “2.999”.
“Can’t you round up?”
“No, I’m sorry, sir, we cannot round up.”
Nobody has ever called me “sir” in my entire life and meant it. If the Queen of England called me “Sir!” it would probably because I stole the last deviled egg in a buffet at a royal party.
So I went to the professor of my Fortran class. His name was Nick something. I can’t even remember his last name. The man who had the power to save my life.
I said to him, “Listen. I don’t deserve it. But I love computer science. I’m leaving here to go to graduate school in computer science. I don’t know why I’m not good at Fortran. But they won’t graduate me unless you switch me from a D- to a D+. Can you please do it?”
I didn’t say I deserved the D+. I really did deserve a D-.
Here’s what I did:
- I eliminated the possible counter argument (I admitted that I didn’t deserve it).
- I related on common ground (we both loved computer science. I even wanted to be a professor like him so I was going to graduate school)
- I gave an us-versus-them argument (“they” won’t graduate me)
- I made him a possible accessory to the crime (“I don’t know why
- I’m not good” might mean he’s not a good teacher).
- I gave him a very specific remedy rather than give him homework to come up with one (“switch me from D- to D+)
- A specific call to action (“do it”).
He did it. I stood in his office while I watched him switch my grade. I graduated a week later.
And two years later I was thrown out of graduate school.
Related reading: Don’t Send Your Kids to College