October is the time of year when students of all ages start having difficulty with an assignment or a subject. My advice — don’t give up — keep trying. There are a multitude of self-esteem, monetary and social class rewards for persevering.
An awakening moment occurred in the fall of 1966 when Loree Rackstraw (1931-2018; American literary critic and Kurt Vonnegut memoirist), my English I Professor (University of Northern Iowa), asked us immature freshmen to write a two-page prose and I obliged.
My submission was returned with a red-colored ‘F.’ No comment. Just an ‘F.’
I called my older brother, Norm, who was attending law school, told him the fate and pleaded for help.
He said, “I presume you didn’t proofread the paper.” I was silent. Norm continued, “Remember, education is a process and not an event. It appears you wrote the paper as if it was a single event versus a process of learning how to write.”
He continued, “Proofread the paper and resubmit it. Persevere in college, Steve, persevere.” (I knew what he meant by proofreading but didn’t fully comprehend the larger meaning of perseverance.)
“But Professor Rackstraw didn’t say to rewrite it,” was my retort. Norm immediately replied, “I don’t care whether she asked you to rewrite it or not. You need to proof it and resubmit it as a lesson to yourself to keep trying. Never forget what Mom and Dad told us that when you face adversity, don’t quit.”
I recalled sage parental advice, accepted brotherly advice, rewrote the paper and handed it to Professor Rackstraw. She said, “What’s this? I didn’t ask you to rewrite it.” I told her the story of conversing with my brother, trying to get some temporary grace. Professor Rackstraw shrugged her shoulders, smiled and said, “Okay, I’ll re-read it.”
The revised paper came back with ‘D’ and a note, “Proofread and re-submit.” Thinking that the third-time-would-be-a-charm, that document received a ‘C’ and a familiar note. Next round: ‘B’ and that pesky “resubmit” comment. The last submission came back with an ‘A-’ but included a comment NO student, pre-school or doctoral candidate, wants to read: “See me.”
Ms. Rackstraw said, “Steve, this paper is not worthy of an A, A- is about right. It’s good but not great. You persevered. Your proofreading paid off. From now on, proofread and rewrite everything a minimum of five times.”
One of the joys of my life was retelling this incident some 40 years later to a retired Loree Rackstraw. She smiled and gave me a hug while a tear rolled out of her eye. She said, “I too remember that event and it taught me a lot about teaching. Don’t give up on students. Keep trying and hope they’ll return the same don’t-give-up actions. And, you know Steve, life is all about perseverance.”
How many times, whether it’s with school, work, personal problems, neighbors, friends, strangers, supervisors and colleagues, has perseverance paid off? Hundreds. Possibly thousands. Despite all of the obstacles one is handed … persevere— it beholds multiple lifetime payoffs. And, oh, don’t forget to proofread.
P.S. no. 1: Consider sharing this op-ed with a student you know; perseverance does wonders to one’s work ethic and makes for stronger individuals.
P.S. no. 2: Entry-level workers too often quit the job too soon when the going gets tough. Persevere or face the consequences of being a job-hopper where sooner or later no one will want to hire you.
P.S. no. 3: Perseverance pays dividends in school … life.