Earlier this week the local newspaper "Community Impact" called to ask if they could use a quote from a petition I had participated in to name a new school in our area after my old principal. I of course said, "Yes!" It was time to acknowledge and pay-forward and pay back what I'd been given! I hopefully have repaid a little of what Mr. Rouse did for me as a student by helping to make sure he received this honor before he was not around to see or enjoy it. And most of all to thank him!
You see when I was in high school, I was in some advanced placement classes, football, debate, speech, Academic Decathlon, Gifted and Talented and various other areas of interest. I was also informally part of student council and many other groups and I could float around to any of the groups of other kids. It was a time when Leander High School was still small enough that you could know everyone's name... and I did. It's something I was proud of and that's related to another story about the head senior cheerleader (Jackie Schwartz) who greeted me the very first day of my freshman year... but back to Mr. Rouse.
The thing was I just wanted to do enough to get a "C". To pass if you will. I wanted to learn, but I didn't care if I got "A's" or not! What I did want to do, was to try as many things as I could! I even got to teach Physics my senior year, when I served as a teachers aid. (I enjoyed teaching greatly and that experience profoundly affected my future - but that too is another story). I even had the pleasure (to my great joy) of finally getting a letter jacket in the middle of my senior year. That happened when myself and two other "C" students on the Academic Decathlon team, won bronze medals while competing in the state competition. (Ours was the only school that year where no "A" students won a medal, only one "B" student won a medal and all our "C" students won... we went around talking about how we had the smartest "dumb" kids in the state for the rest of the year - something that you obviously can tell, I still find humor in) The question is though, "Why is any of this relevant?"
You see the outside world would see an 'under-achiever'. Mr. Rouse on the other-hand, knew me, knew my work, saw my achievements and saw past what others would consider untaped potential. I think he saw someone who was just inquisitive and didn't "yet" have a passion for any particular topic. I think he saw that I could learn anything and he had proof due to the many things I had done and the fact that I'd done them well enough to be able to be all over the map. I think he saw the untapped potential not as something to be frowned upon or to looked upon as being wasted, but as something that was still growing - as if the farmer hadn't decided which crops to finally settle on for the field. That field was my life, my passion and my future!
This all came into play when I wanted try to go to college, I was 106 out of a class of 156. Not a great position to be in. Back then you didn't get adjustments for having taken AP classes. A "C" was a "C".... and so my ranking was not so great. To be honest, at that time, I didn't really care! I was proud that I'd passed and I was also proud that I'd done so many other things. But when I did want to go to college, I needed to care. I couldn't get into most places because I had a 2.0 average and to be honest, I didn't know how to put onto paper, to write my thoughts about learning, my interests, etc. I didn't know what to say to a admissions board to convey the thoughts I had about learning and why I might be a good student to give a chance too. But I was lucky. When I did decide to try college, Mr. Rouse helped me!
I only applied one place and well, I wouldn't exactly call it applying. I called them to get directions and my dad drove me over and we walked in to the advisors office and asked to talk to someone about admissions. They only thing I had with me, was a letter that Mr. Rouse had written for me! And the sad fact is, I don't even remember what it said!
What I do remember is that my SAT scores (950 - fell asleep both times I took them - I was not serious about it at the time and it showed), my 2.0 average in high school, my still having no good direction or understanding of what I wanted to do and my general lack of a great passion or drive, my working at a bookstore part-time... none of that mattered.... what did matter, was the confidence that advisor placed in that letter and the words that Mr. Rouse had written about me! That mattered a lot!
Mr. Rouse saw the potential in me and in a few simple words transfered that belief in me through to the admissions person. That one little letter from a man like Mr. Rouse, meant more than those SAT scores, or anything else I might have done, but those words also had wrapped up his belief in me. Those words changed my life.
The school? Texas A&M
Now I didn't graduate from Texas A&M. My path took me down a different road, but I did go two years, at which point I left and came back to Austin Community College (ACC) - for which I came up with the catchy alternate name - Anybody Can Come!
While I was at Texas A&M, I was impacted by others, other students, the environment, the freedom, other things in life... growing... still not knowing what I wanted to do, but growing, still learning, still going to learn other things.... I audited a lot of other courses... ;-) But I also met quite a few other people who also steered my life... Scott Boyd, Greg Marriott, Andrew Donahoe, Jay Zabach and Darin Adler. They were either in Texas A&M graduate school or in the Macintosh Programmers special interest group in Austin. Three of them would later go on to be part of the core team of the Macintosh System 7 OS team. The others worked at MCC and other Austin high tech companies. I met them all because I went to Texas A&M!
If Mr. Rouse wouldn't have written the letter.... well, I'd probably never have met those people and never had been mentored by them. I wouldn't have been mentored on programming the Macintosh, running a business, artificial intelligence, and all kinds of other odds and ends in the technology area. I might not have learned that even people who don't finish college can work on and do great things!
Back in Austin and at ACC (I only went there 1 year), I did learn to program quite well, went into consulting and consulted for almost 10 years all over the US and Canada in advanced software design and techniques. I taught Java programming at SMU as adjunct professor, coauthored a programming book, had my own software company with 21 employees and mentored many people; both programmers and non-programmers; in lots of different things.
That belief and faith that Mr. Rouse; my old principal; had in me, did have an impact on my life and a quite significant one. An impact that neither Mr. Rouse, I, my parents nor any of those involved directly or peripherally at the time, could have known! It's funny how life pans out and it's also funny that that letter also provided one of life's other important lessons. It's not always what you know, but who you know and more than that, what they know about you! But that too is another story...
I'd still like to go finish my degree at Texas A&M one day... and have even entertained going while my son is going to college 10 years from now. I now know it's "OK" to just go to learn whatever your interested in. As much as I never thought that I was the kind of person who should just go to school to be a "well rounded" student. It's thru the growth and wisdom of life that I learned that becoming a well rounded educated person is what I was doing all along; just not by the standard formula... much like others who were looked over for not doing things the standard way. That's a great group by the way... Einstein, Newton, Ray Kroc, Picasso, Edison, Steve Jobs... not that I'm in their league, but there are minor similarities none the less.... and even if I'm a hanging onto the coat-tails of that group, it's a great group to be apart of.
All these things are due to belief from people like my parents, Mr. Rouse and others... People who saw the positive, had belief and wisdom. The wisdom to know that the harvest can't be known till you let the seeds grow....
Thanks to all and Mr. Rouse for watering that seed...