Continued from Part 2…
My junior year and senior years of college, I was a “student” in name only. Socializing was my #1 form of personal growth & education.
I lived in off campus apartments. I had a car. I knew every corner of campus (and off campus). I knew everyone who was someone, and every someone knew me. Penn State Altoona was small enough for my name to spread around campus, and large enough for me and my teammates to feel like our status mattered.
As a basketball team player, I was one of only twelve members in the most exclusive club on campus (Altoona had no football team), a club that many watched, and many would have been a part of if given the opportunity. I wasn’t even on the basketball team for the duration of my senior year. But all of my friends were, and I was still in the gym every day as if I was on the team. So even though I wasn’t on the basketball team, I was still a basketball team guy.
When my Volkswagen broke down my senior year, I became a regular at the Altoona Enterprise Rent-A-Car: $42 for the Friday-Monday weekend special. Between 2003-04, I drove every full-sized vehicle the American automobile industry had to offer.
I had made many connections at the main PSU campus up in State College. To me, State was like Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. So many things to do, places to explore, people to meet. I don’t think I would have been able to focus on school if I were a student at State.
With my Enterprise-rented cars, there were Friday nights that I’d drive up to State College, by myself, with no plan whatsoever, cruising the campus to see who I could meet — and it worked.
After basketball season ended, one of my teammates knew more people up at State, and brought up the idea of us going up the main campus to play pickup basketball every week. We did that, and pickup basketball made us more connections — which led to attending parties. I met a girl at one of these parties who soon treated us to a few trips to the famed “Commons” buffet halls to eat after an afternoon of pickup games.
We became regulars at the weekend events at State. Regulars as in, you know when you walk into a club or bar and everyone knows you, so you walk in and spend your first ten minutes shaking hands and giving hugs? We were doing that at State College, and didn’t even go to school there.
There was one night at State when a couple friends and I crashed a random all-White-people party in a random apartment building — this happened more than once, actually — and the inebriated inhabitants welcomed us as if we had been invited.
We drank their beer, danced with their girls, stood on their couches. Then we left the crashed party and went to the party we had originally come in the building for in the first place.
Ahh, college life.
I was still enrolled as a student, though, and it made sense to me that I at least do enough work to graduate.
There were only two three obstacles to doing so.
- My social schedule causing me to sacrifice sleep, which I sometimes inadvertently got during class lectures. Some professors frowned upon this.
- Math 110, Penn State’s listing for Calculus.
- The internship required of all business degree graduates.
Let’s take these one by one.
Partying and Sleep
I drank socially in college.
I socialized a lot.
So I got drunk in college. Often.
Only on the weekends though. And I never threw up (NOTE: well, maybe one time, at a house party), just had a couple of formidable hangovers. It’s kind of a surreal feeling to wake up at 4 in the afternoon from the previous night’s shenanigans.
Vladimir ($11) and Banker’s Club ($12) vodka from the local liquor store was the most common beverage. Gin mixed with Squirt soda when we got bored with that. Bacardi 151 Rum on birthdays, and times when we were otherwise feeling ambitious (NOTE: 151 Rum is not something to be played with). These were our pregame beverages. We supplemented all of that with the Natural Ice, or Natty Ice, beer that the fraternity, sorority and house parties always served.
They say that beer is an “acquired taste.” I had a lot of Natty Ice my last two years of college, and I never acquired the taste for more.
Between drinking and parties and basketball and females, I squeezed in academics.
By this point I knew what I wanted to do with my life: play ball. I was smart enough to know the game, though, which was to do just enough work to get by and graduate, which at Penn State meant getting at least a C in every business class.
Altoona’s business major had just about a classroom full — ~35 people — of graduating seniors in 2004. So for our last four semesters, all 35 of us were pretty much in all the same classes together.
There were only three Black business majors: me, my teammate B, and a girl named Michelle.
I didn’t know anyone else’s GPA or test scores. But when you share a classroom with the same people over and over again, you get a solid feel for the kind of student they are just from their actions, attentiveness, and the way fellow students and professors respond to them.
Michelle was really smart, a dedicated, on-top-of-her-shit student. I suspected Michelle to be a regular on that Dean’s List thingy.
I don’t know if B was on Michelle’s level academically, but he gave an effort; you could tell that both he and Michelle tried.
I was the one bringing the Black student average down. Especially in my senior year, I did not try academically.
I was the kind of student that college professors hate, the kind whose effort shows that he doesn’t really care about learning the material. The kind of student that a professor (who didn’t care about his/her job security) would ask aloud, why the hell are you here? The kind of student that frustrated professors the way I often did my coaches in college, all for the same reason.
I was good enough to get by, and undisciplined enough (on the court) / arrogant enough (classroom) to not try any harder than that.
I could muster a C grade by bullshitting through presentations, praying through exams, piggybacking through group projects and without buying the class’ required textbooks (which I didn’t do all of senior year).
This wasn’t all fun and games though.
I felt kind of embarrassed my last two years of school in those business-major classes.
I would look around in class and see all the familiar faces from my other classes, always paying attention and taking copious notes in lectures. All doing the suggested homework to better learn the material. All forming study groups outside of class (to none of which was I ever invited). All looking, with their good grades and positive relationships with the professors and full understandings of the lecture material, as if they were going somewhere in life after graduation.
I’m not being facetious. It really felt that way.
And here I was, the prospective “pro basketball player” who gave no effort in school and wasn’t even on the fucking basketball team. Sometimes I wondered what my business major classmates thought of me.
The head of the business department was a middle aged white guy named Bill Engelbret who wore drab brown and gray suits. Bill taught one of my senior year Business classes. I looked Bill up while writing this and it seems he teaches accounting, but I don’t remember what class of his I was in. He caught me falling asleep in his lecture a time or three. Of course I denied it, which he didn’t buy. I made it out of his class with a C, though.
I fell asleep in other classes, too; those teachers either didn’t see me or didn’t care to call me out (probably the latter).
Math 110 aka Calculus
To all current students reading this who look at your class schedules in school and ask, when in my “real life” will I ever even need this information?
Here’s the truth: never.
You will never need that shit. If you ever do need it, someone on Fiverr knows it and will apply it for you for $7.
But, your college or university may require that you pass the class for you to graduate.
I first took the class, known in the Penn State class schedule as Math 110, as a freshman at Abington. Three sessions in, I knew I was in over my head, left class halfway through a lecture, went to the academic office and dropped the class. Math is not a class where your general intelligence and/or mental improvisation (my best college skills in lieu of, you know, studying or actually knowing the material) can get you by.
In English or writing or even a business class, you can make a case for any idea or answer and have it accepted by a sympathetic professor. In math and science, though, there’s only ONE right answer, and everything else is wrong.
In other words, it requires actual effort. Effort that was not on the menu for me.
Not as a freshman at Abington.
Not as a junior at Altoona, when I stuck with the class through the semester and failed.
Not in the fall semester of my senior year, when the same professor from junior year gave me an F again. Asshole.
Not even in the spring semester of that senior year, when I rushed to the office door or my (new) professor, to see the final grades he’d posted outside of his office.
Thank you, sir.
To receive a business degree from The Pennsylvania State University, a student must perform a 9-credit hours internship, which is somewhere between 20-40 hours/week of work.
The purpose of an internship, as far as I know of it, is to prepare one for the “real world” of working. The real world I envisioned had nothing to do with sitting at a desk, and there was no one in Altoona available to help me for it, but rules are rules.
Many of the professors at Penn State Altoona were very nice and accommodating; they cared about helping students more than being adversaries to them. Internship coordinator Mrs. Cynthia Wood embodied that spirit. Mrs. Wood is, more than anyone, maybe even more than me, the reason I graduated from college. Because, had it been left completely to me, I would not have found an internship.
Mrs. Wood saw that, as my final semester approached, I didn’t have an internship lined up. I told her what my “real world” plans were. I don’t know what she thought of them, but she was sympathetic enough to not leave me blowing in the wind, which she could have done. I mean, isn’t part of getting a job in the “real world” having the initiative to go find one?
Mrs. Wood connected me to a guy named Phil Sky, who hired me as his “intern” — even though his business did not have the structure for such a thing, he had no system for teaching me anything (internships are supposed to be educational or paid or both; I wasn’t paid), and there were zero checks and balances in place at Mr. Sky’s company to make sure that I was, you know, working.
I worked hard at the work-from-home job Mr. Sky handed me, calling educational journalists at newspapers across the country to pique their interest in some educational product he’d created, for about a week. Then I went back to my majors of socializing and basketball.
My Penn State business degree required that I earn some 122 total credits. My internship was the easiest of them all. Thank you to Mr. Sky (RIP) and Mrs. Wood.
So that’s how I managed the gauntlet of college life to earn a degree. There are plenty of gaps to fill in between all of that, though.
This is just one of many stories in sharing around the release of my new book, Work On Your Game: Using The Pro Athlete Mindset To Dominate In Sports, Business and Life coming February 22. Order it now and I’ll give you free stuff.