The guy that gave me a d
Early one morning – it had to be about 8 a.m. – in August 1988 I rolled off my dorm-issue bunk bed at Loyola University in New Orleans and staggered across campus to my very first college class: Intro to Communications, known in the university shorthand as Comm 101.
My professor was a youngish hipster type in Levis and long hair. This guy’s cool, I remember thinking. I also vaguely recall anticipating I would dazzle the dude with my as-yet unformed intellectual prowess.
As it turns out, that did not happen.
By the end of the semester I had earned a solid D in the class, one of two on my transcript that semester which, along with an F in a 100-level writing class, gave me a GPA of 1.1, the worst my parents had ever seen and bad enough to ruin Christmas.
I try not to think about it too much. But, as it turns out, my old professor, Dr. Michael Frierson, has been working at UNCG for the past 18 years in the Department of Broadcasting and Cinema. So I decided to confront my past by meeting with the man who gave me my first (though, regrettably, not my last) collegiate D.
Brian Clarey: It was a long time ago, so you probably don’t remember me. But I got a D in your class.
Michael Frierson: Oh really! Uh-oh. That’s funny.
BC: Yeah. Funny. My parents weren’t too happy. I still graduated, though.
MF: It’s hard to pull your stuff up when [your grades] are that low. You really have to focus.
BC: New Orleans had a lot of challenges.
MF: Well, they sold beer on campus! It’s amazing… that town has a lot of allure. One night I was driving home and my headlights went across Audubon Park and there was a kid lying there, he was a student and he was passed out. His body temperature had dropped and he was like a frozen piece of meat. The paramedics came and he was all right, but….
BC: I didn’t want to become one of “those guys” who failed out after a year, so I started actually going to class and my grades got a lot better. When I retook the class my senior year it was much easier.
MF: Yeah, you couldn’t have a D in your major.
BC: Do you have any advice for “slow starters” like me?
MF: Do the reading. For some reason people don’t want to do the reading.
BC: When you don’t you look really dumb when you get called on in class.
MF: It can be painful when you ask questions [of the students]. I think high school kids don’t realize how much [college professors] want the students to question them, raise issues and not be passive. But it takes a lot of guts when you’re a freshman to do that. I think mostly they’re just afraid. I teach mostly in the graduate program now, but occasionally I do a freshman seminar kind of thing. Freshmen have a whole different mindset, whether they’re intimidated or just not very engaged. Some of them… I don’t know, their moms told them to go to college or something… I don’t know, maybe they’re just too young to be there.
BC: And then there’s the kid who raises his hand every day and says, “How is this gonna help me get a job?” And the answer is that it’s not. I had a philosophy professor who used to say, “If you want a job, go to electrician school.”
MF: Yeah, it’s funny. Nobody wants to be blue collar. I tell my kids, “Learn to be a plumber. You’ll have a great life.”
BC: If you can fix a toilet, you’re gold.
MF: That’s it.
To comment on this story, e-mail Brian Clarey at firstname.lastname@example.org.