How an Unsung Hero Opened the Door to My Education

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Standardized testing saved my life.

Okay, that’s a complete exaggeration. Let me try again.

Standardized testing, a touch of tenacity, a mountain of luck, and a man named Chuck Paulson made it possible for me to attend a university.

Who Wrote Your Transcript?

More importantly, were they as naive as the person that wrote mine?

I was homeschooled most of my life. I went to kindergarten for a few months (shout out to Mrs. Campbell, wherever you are), but after that, it was homeschool straight through high school. I have mixed feelings about this, which I’ll probably write about at a later date.

But for today’s story, here’s why my homeschool background matters: I wrote my high school transcript.

Your transcript was probably written by the staff at your high school. And I’m betting they had some idea what they were doing. That’s where you and I differ.

To make matters worse, my high school education was closer to unschooling than traditional homeschooling.

In case you aren’t familiar with unschooling, it’s like school without the structure or set curriculum.

Again, mixed feelings. And again, saving those for a later post.

Since there was no set curriculum, I hadn’t taken such courses as algebra 2 or trigonometry. Until my senior year, I had no plan to go to college, so those courses didn’t seem to matter.

I focused on business math instead. I could balance a checkbook and write a killer business plan, but the only cosine in my life was my dad’s signature on my car loan (this is why people don’t use homophone puns in their writing).

Nothing was stopping me from putting those missing courses on my transcript. Chalk it up to a combination of honesty, naivety, and stupidity. Whatever the reason, I just didn’t do it.

(I’d like to think it was 90% honesty, but naivety was probably the majority factor.)

Regardless, the die had been cast. My application to UNF had been sent in. Now I was just awaiting a response.

The Open House

I hadn’t heard back by the time the open house rolled around, so I drove up the coast to go check the place out.

They had an on-site application process set up with same-day decisions. Since I had arrived early, I decided to see if I could get them to speed my application through the process.

I approached the desk and asked if such a thing was possible. It turns out that wasn’t necessary as they had already processed my application.

I was rejected because I didn’t have the mandatory three courses of college preparatory mathematics. Business math did not count.

To say that I was taken aback would be an understatement. I was floored. I needed some time to think about what this meant for my future.

I did what anyone in too much shock to process the situation would do — I continued to attend the open house.

The first thing up on the agenda was an optional introduction to the honors program. It was either check out the honors program I couldn’t be part of or hang out with the people that wouldn’t be my fellow students that fall, so I chose the former.

Enter Chuck

Dr. Chuck Paulson, the head of the honors program, was presenting the introduction. To this day I have no idea what he said. My mind was far from in that room.

I was thinking about my own stupidity. Why hadn’t I taken those two courses? Why did I not realize that this could happen?

The session ended, and I went up to thank Chuck for his time. I managed to come up with a comment that made it seem like I’d heard at least a few words of his speech.

He asked me if I was considering the honors program. I saw no reason not to tell him the truth. “I can’t. I got rejected for not having the prereq math courses.”

He seemed genuinely surprised and asked me to stick around for a few minutes after everyone else left. I did, and we talked about my background.

Among other things, he asked about my ACT scores. I told him how I had done, which was well above the necessary minimum. This only added to his confusion.

A bit of clarification might be in order. While I didn’t formally study the prereq high school math courses, my parents did get me some ACT prep software. I spent dozens of hours answering every math question they offered.

The mathematical rigor of my trigonometry and geometry knowledge left much to be desired, but I was thoroughly prepared for the ACT.

I explained all of this to Chuck as well as informing him of the college algebra course I had since taken. He responded by picking up his supplies and ushering me out the door toward the admission booths.

At the booths, Chuck asked to be directed to the Dean of Admissions. After exchanging the usual pleasantries, Chuck asked me to explain my situation to the Dean.

I wasn’t keen on reliving those moments yet again, but I did it anyway, including all the details about my background and the events of earlier that day.

The Dean pondered what I had said for what seemed like an eternity but was probably only a few seconds. Finally, he said that he would take care of it and welcomed me to the University of North Florida.

I had missed most of the open house, but at least I was in. No longer did I have to figure out what “not college” looked like. I knew where I was going in the Fall. I was an Osprey.

About That Subtitle…

Yes, I didn’t actually play the central role in opening the door. That honor is shared by lady luck and a man named Chuck Paulson.

That day, I learned two important lessons.

  1. A closed door is not the end of a story.
  2. Heroism takes many forms. Some heroes slay dragons, others just convince a Dean to bend the rules. I hope that Chuck realizes that he rose to the rank of hero that day.

Bonus lesson 3: if you have to write a transcript, do a bit of research beforehand.

One final note. Looking back, I recognize that much of the luck that worked for me in this story was, in fact, my white, male privilege. I cannot in good conscious publish this story in the year 2020 without explicitly pointing this out.

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