Once again, we are about to embark on another finality. This time, it is one I never imagined I would achieve. Words cannot begin to describe how grateful I am that you opened this door. But then, you have always been there for me.
In the spring of 1992, there I was, a 17-year-old kid with massive insecurities and a very low level of confidence. I was concluding a difficult junior year in high school, and while I had aspirations to go to college, there was the reality that my grades were not going to get me there. I disliked school. I was unmotivated. I was bored. I spent valuable class time doodling in the back. I doodled in my notebooks until the ink ran out of my pen. I was told I had a bad attitude. I was told I was lazy. Others mocked me as a dumb jock. I did homework assignments at the last minute, and the rushed attempt was often sloppy and careless.
If I could take a time machine to May or even June of 1992, I would see the despair on my face as I moved through the world, wondering about a future that, well, seemed out of reach. Teachers reminded me my grades were not good enough for college. My father did as well. I believe I was just over the proverbial Mendoza line of 2.0 as I headed into my final year of high school.
Focused more on football and basketball, I spent that summer honing my body to prepare for my senior year. College? No. Besides, if I wanted to go to college, my intentions were to move out of Southern Oregon. No way I was going to attend you. I came into the fall in the best shape of my life and had a wonderful final year of high school football, as you know.
Linfield contacted me first. The coaches called and inquired about my interest in possibly going to their private school in McMinnville. Uh, no. Then, you called right before my senior year of football concluded. You were interested. Very interested. When I sadly told you my GPA, you told me not to worry. You took a broken spirit and gave him wings. When you encouraged me to apply, I did. A few weeks later, you sent your letter of acceptance. I still remember the stunned look on my father's face. When it was said and done, I graduated from high school with a 2.2 and scored a whopping 840 on my SAT. Neither was nowhere near close enough to be accepted. But you did anyway. For five years, I went through a series of ebb and flow. I struggled, but I survived. I succeeded. I quit football, came back, and earned a starting role. I landed on probation and remember nearly breaking down before picking myself back up and going forward.
All along, you never let me fail. You never let me hit the pavement, even during the worst of times. I graduated with my BS in communications and was able to fulfill a dream of being a sportswriter. We lost touch for many years, and that is on me, but you were never far from my thoughts.
It was a news magazine you sent to me in the summer of 2019 that piqued my interest. An ad inside said you could get your MBA online in less than 16 months. Wow. I was in marketing in the summer of 2019, toiling. I still remember my father telling me I didn't have enough oompf to advance further than I was. After processing for several months, I took a plunge and reached out to you again. This time, I wanted to be in your MBA program. A couple of weeks later, you accepted me again. I registered for my first class in the winter of 2020, and now, in the summer of 2021, I am about to conclude it.
You were there for me again. This time, at 46, I was motivated and will graduate with a GPA north of 3.5. I learned a lot in the 16 months I was in the program, one of which is I am not as dumb and pathetic as that 17-year-old standing in the sun in 1992 thought he was. You see, you didn't just open your doors. You changed my life. I know all the highs I owe to you. When I was at my lowest, you were always that presence that guided me. The guy who everyone thought would be an overweight "refrigerator repair man" is now Steve Bennett, MBA. For that, you have my undying love. I am not just a proud alum, I am a part of the entire culture of the college. My DNA is engrained in that university. You took a flier on a kid in 1993, and in a few weeks, I will walk across a stage and achieve something that was never even envisioned. And I have you to thank.
Class of 1999 AND 2021.
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