Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The Color of Money

This photograph indicates Linda, Jill and I graduated in 1986 as does the front cover to this book. I didn't, however, they did. I walked through the ceremony with my best friends; however, I wasn’t graduating with them. We were late arriving as Waikiki Beach kept us longer than anticipated. As a result, we had to sit in the back of the auditorium with the math department instead of up front with the fashion department. How ironic as math is a subject I detest.
The truth is I failed Business Math and was instructed to take it again after tutoring for a year with a math professor. Instead, I “graduated” in the hallway of the Fashion Merchandising department while Dr. Carol Ann Dickson handed me a rolled up version of a diploma.
            Early on in grade school, I knew certain pieces of information were not clicking, were not registering and were not being received in the correct section of my brain. In my small high school, I alone brought the class Grade Point Average down with my failing test grades. Sitting in the back of the classroom, my classmate’s would turn around to stare at me.
            Leaving the comfort of my parent’s home after graduating high school, I followed my four best friends lead in heading on to higher levels of education. Attending a fashion–related school in Long Beach, I was hospitalized from the stress of failing my classes.
            Although I’d never skipped a day of school in my life, this was not enough to sustain my grades. With each attempt at higher learning, I left the institution with a 2.0 grade point average – or lower. I finally obtained an AA degree from Brooks Fashion Institute in Long Beach, California.
            Transferring to the University of Hawaii at Manoa, (U.H.) I was thrilled beyond words, however, not all my units from Brooks Fashion Institute were useable, which added another year of schooling. This did not matter; studying in the Land of Paradise would surely bring me the calm I needed and then I would be proud of my scholarly attempts. In my first month, I was told to join the Learning Assistance Program for students with learning disabilities.
            It was in my oral presentations I excelled. After taking the Meyers Briggs Personality Test, the instructor asked me to stand before the class. She said, “Students, this is the single most outgoing person you will ever see. Watch her sail through these courses to graduation.” I cringed at her sure words. It was in Business Math I failed.
            When graduation time came in 1986, I begged Dr. Carol Ann Dickson, my math professor, to allow me to walk with our group through the ceremony. The only catch was I asked her not to tell anyone I failed; I wasn’t really graduating. She agreed only because my presentations were outstanding and the stories I wrote caught her attention.
            She required me to take a year off from school, hire a math tutor, and then take her Business Math course the following year. I agreed. Across the street from the university was Punahou, a private high school. It was there I met Mike, my new math tutor.
            For a year, through rain and shine, on my bicycle I rode to Punahou High School for my tutoring session. When working together, I seemed to grasp the capacity to regurgitate the information he just relayed. I never told Mike I didn’t actually have a clue what he was saying.
            With my tutoring year completed, I came to Mike for my final session. He handed me a billing statement for his time and I stood absolutely stunned and speechless. The bill may as well have read, “Pay $10,000 now to the order of Mike, the Tutor.”
            Didn’t Mike realize I worked part time at night after school? Didn’t he realize I was on student loans from U.H.? Didn’t he realize I was eating just rice and peanut butter? But, but? Instead, I humbly stood before him and said, “Mike, I’m sorry, there’s no way I can ever repay you for your time. You will need to call the university and turn me in.” With that, I walked out his classroom door.
            A week later, Dr. Dickson approached me to say Mike called and needed to see me at once. Terrified, I said, “Dr. Dickson, let me explain.” She said, “Mike said you forgot your sweater and he wants to give it back to you.”
            That seemed plausible. I jumped on my bicycle, headed across the street, up the steep hill and locked my bike. I walked into Mike’s class room to find him sitting at his desk. That’s when he said, “Debbie, I have a deal for you. I know you’re in the fashion department at U.H. Come to my home, look it over and do whatever you can to bring it to life.”
            Walking out of his room, I knew I’d better move quickly before tears welled up. I rode my bicycle to his home, taking notes and making sketches with colored pencils from my back pack. From there, I rode my bicycle to the fabric store at the Ala Moana Shopping Center.
            With two extra large bags of fabrics, thread, buttons and stuffing, I headed back to the U.H. sewing department. Mrs. Yoder, the perfectionist, was still there. I asked if I could use one of the sewing machines. She gave me the key to lock up her room when I finished.
            Throughout the night, I sewed and sewed some more. The following morning, I handed Mrs. Yoder her key. When 8:00 a.m., arrived, I put the over-stuffed pillows back into the large plastic bags then jumped on my bicycle and rode over to Punahou to meet Mike.
            Handing him the brand new “homemade” pillows, I prayed he would like them. Taking the bags of pillows from my hands, he pulled each of them out very carefully while I held my breath. Holding the large brown one with colorful stripes to his chest, he said he could not wait for the day to end so he could head to his house and create a home. Can you imagine how I must have felt? But now, it was time to take my math final again.
            I rode my bicycle to Dr. Dickson’s class for the final. Sitting alone in the class with Dr. Dickson, I stared blankly at the exact pages Mike drilled into me the past year. I was not able to answer one question. Standing up to leave the room, Dr. Dickson told me to wait outside in the hallway. Nearly 10 minutes passed when she walked out to find me sitting on the floor. Standing up, I went to explain to her I didn’t know why I was unable to do the math test.
In her strong Southern drawl, she said, “Debbie, I am pleased to announce you passed by one point.” Shaking my head from left to right, she stared at me with that look and repeated, “Debbie, here is your diploma. Now, get out of here and begin your career as a fashion show producer.”
            Here I am 22 years later, thinking about the way my bill was paid.  I’m thanking both Mike, my math tutor, and Dr. Carol Ann Dickson, my math professor, from U.H. Together; they showed me debts can be repaid by means other than the color of money. 

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