July 27, 2012 | 4 Comments | Betsy Woodman
I did my first official reading and signing of Jana Bibi’s Excellent Fortunes this week, at the Water Street Bookstore in Exeter, NH. The next morning, I poked around Phillips Exeter Academy, founded 1781. My dad, Everett Woodman, graduated in 1935, and he called the famous preparatory school “the best university in the world.” If he could see the campus today, with its science and art centers, observatories, and Louis Kahn-designed library, he’d be doubly convinced of that.
Not that he got a particularly illustrious start at Exeter. On Nov. 17, 1932, he wrote home:
The marks came out this afternoon and right now I feel pretty discouraged. In chemistry, last time I had a C, which is a good enough mark. This time it is E+, which is just under passing. I don’t understand it and I am going to see my teacher at once and find out the reason. I think that I deserve quite a lot more than an E+. I brought the English up to D-, which is just passing (and) that is an awful lot better than flunking. The Algebra stayed just the same.”
In other words, still flunking. He was mystified by math. In later years, he would tell how his math teacher would painstakingly explain things to the class, and then turn to him and say, “Woodman? Any snags?” It was mostly snags.
The D- in English, however, strikes me as an irony, because he turned out to be a beautiful writer.
At Dartmouth College, his first semester marks weren’t stellar, either—a D in zoology, and four Cs. Granted, those were the days when the “gentleman’s C” was not a disgrace, but the zoology grade was no doubt distressing to his dad, who hoped that Ev would follow in his footsteps as a doctor.
Even in the days before grade inflation, however, a D in zoology didn’t get you into medicine. My dad didn’t become a physician. But he did get a doctorate—in educational psychology—and worked as a college professor and as an educational consultant to the government of India. He also served as president of a college, Colby Junior College (now Colby-Sawyer College) in New London, NH.
He attributed his academic turn-around to supportive teachers. Increased motivation was critical, too. He came home from the invasion of Normandy determined to do something constructive with his life and idealistically convinced that education would help keep humanity from repeating the lunacy of war. (Alas.)
As a professor, I don’t know how hard a grader he was, but I suspect he sympathized with students who were struggling.
Late bloomers wherever you are, take heart.