Monday, May 18, 2009

Leif - Graduation from Kansas State University - May 17, 2003 - age 28

On May 17, 2003, just about exactly six years ago, Leif graduated from Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kansas with a B.A. degree in general social sciences. He had started classes at KSU while still a high school senior at Manhattan High School, taking psychology and sociology in the spring of 1993. He never did manage to make up his mind which of the social science disciplines he favored most, so he created a program that included courses in psychology, sociology, history and political science.

Leif had an incredible memory. He remembered nearly everything he heard and saw. As a result, most of school, including college, was ridiculously easy for him. He didn't have to expend much effort and if he had, he could easily have earned all As, but he hated studying and wasn't particularly interested in academics. He did like to learn, and what he could learn by sitting in a classroom listening, he learned. He didn't take notes and didn't do homework, except for graded assignments that counted a lot toward a grade such a a theme paper or report. Some of his teachers thought he wasn't "getting it" just as his preschool Montessori teacher thought, but he demonstrated that he was. He once admitted to me that he probably got a college degree with less effort than anyone else he met.

This watch and listen method didn't work for him when it came to foreign languages and math. He could understand what was being shown on the board or spoken in class, but since he didn't want to do homework, when it came time to work college algebra problems on a test or pass a Spanish or German test, he was in trouble. He not only wasn't used to studying, he didn't want to do it. He flunked college algebra (a graduation requirement) twice before he quit school and enlisted in the army.

He quit school in the fall of 1997 because he couldn't keep it all together. He was married, to Nikko, since October 20, 1995, and had been trying to work and go do school (with our help for the school expenses and and $600 a month toward living expenses), but he couldn't make ends meet, in part due to his spending and his motorcycle payments. He worked longer and longer hours at Aggieville Pizza, not getting home until 3 a.m., too tired to get up and go to class, too tired to keep up. He enlisted in January 1998 and spent the next three-and-a-half years as an infantry machine gunner. I've already written about those years.

He came back to Manhattan, Kansas in May 2001 a depressed and broken man in a dark funk, having lost his health, his career and his wife, but he pulled himself together and went back to school using his GI Bill, supplemented with a small income from working as a school crossing guard. And I offered to play the same role I played when he was in high school and tutor him in Spanish, German and algebra. He accepted and tolerated my tutoring pretty well. At least he got through the courses all right.

Leif loved his philosophy classes, too, and the talked a lot about them, his political science classes, and history classes.

He had a brilliant mind for science, and admitted when he was older that he probably should have majored in science, but the stumbling block was math. He didn't want to take more of it, and he didn't get the kind of career counseling that might have shown him that there were careers in science other than being a "lab rat," which he wasn't interested in.

From the way he felt and looked in May 2001 to the vibrant, handsome, mischievous man who graduated in May 2003 was a world of difference. He looked great. He was a rascal. He had achieved his goal.

Leif didn't want to go through the graduation ceremony, like a lot of college students. I told him he "had to," because I wanted to go. I told him that while he didn't think it was important at that time, in the future he would be glad he had "walked" to get his diploma, and that since his dad and I had paid for his education, that was the price. He laughed and said something like, "Silly mommy," and did it to please us. I'm so glad we have these pictures. I particularly like the silly one of him blowing the tassle.

It was a gorgeous and very warm spring day and the graduation ceremony was held at Bramlage Coliseum at KSU.

I think Leif must have had the idea that getting a college degree would automatically mean a better job and a more lucrative career, but just as he wasn't interested in burning up the academic charts, he also wasn't interested in working hard to find a good job. Partly that was due to his lack of focus, not knowing what he really WANTED to do for a career, because if he had, I am sure there would have been no stopping him. However, there wasn't anything he wanted badly enough to spend a lot of time to pursue it. We were disappointed that the summer after graduation, instead of looking for a job, he went to summer school. He enjoyed the classes, but since they weren't aiming toward a graduate degree, from our point of view, it was just running up more tuition to pay, more loans, and postponing a job hunt.

At the end of the summer school classes, he got a job in Manhattan working in a Sykes call center doing telephone customer service about DSL internet service. He was there only about two-and-a-half months before finding a better job in the next building working at a call center for Western Wireless, which was eventually purchased by Alltel. Even when we moved to Florida, Leif continued to find similar jobs, which didn't require a college degree. He always hoped he would move up the ladder through promotions, but it never worked out for him. It must have been very discouraging.

But that day, May 17, 2003, he was on top of the world and so were we. We were so happy to see him graduate, so happy to see him looking healthy and full of mischief and fun, so hopeful for his future.

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