Before CD could apply to UCLA, he had to survive California’s community college system. PCC (Pasadena City College) is one of its best schools – but not one of the easiest. When the state cut its budget, Chris had to battle for even his most basic courses.
For his language requirement, he chose Chinese. Unable to take Chinese 3 at PCC (due to budget cuts, not low grades) he completed Chinese under stiff competition at UCLA. This summer when we toured Russia, he astonished a group of Chinese tourists by talking to them in their language. They were so awed by the tall Caucasian speaking Chinese that they asked for his autograph and insisted on having their photos taken with him.
His accomplishments would impress me even if I didn’t know how far he’s come. He dropped out of high school halfway through his sophomore year when he turned 16 and passed the GED. We’d exhausted every educational alternative. From private school to public school – where they whisked him into the “At Risk” program for potential drop-outs – then on to boarding school followed by another private Lutheran school.
We sent him to private therapy and participated in family therapy. I read books about how to motivate kids determined to fail. My breaking point came when I conferenced with his math teacher to supervise every homework assignment. I verified he completed every single one correctly. Each morning I reminded him not to forget his homework. At the end of the week, his teacher informed me he hadn’t turned in a single page.
That’s when I gave up. I couldn’t read his failure to turn in completed assignments as anything but the finger. Short of going to school with him every day to ensure he handed in assignments, there was nothing I could do.
The applicable cliche here is you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink. CD’s will to fail was stronger than our will to prolong this futile battle. We felt like we just failed parenting. When friends bragged about their kid’s early admission to Yale, then asked about CD’s college prospects, it painful to admit he didn’t get through his sophomore year.
Given all this, we didn’t expect him to perform in a college play or speak Chinese, let alone win a place in UCLA’s Film School, graduate first in his class and give a speech as Valedictorian.
I claim no credit for his miraculous transformation. He figured out how to change his life and followed through. His father and I always believed he was smart despite his early academic performance. Much like he opted to learn Chinese instead of Spanish, CD chose the hard way to obtain his education and succeeded against all odds.
Forgive me for bragging; I waited a long time for this. I couldn’t be any prouder of his unique journey to become the man he is today.