David Bruce: Education Anecdotes

Cassius Clay, who later changed his name to Muhammad Ali, was a poor student and graduated from high school with a D- average near the bottom of his class. (He later claimed, “I only said I was the greatest; I never said I was the smartest.”) Some teachers didn’t think he should be allowed to graduate, but the principal, Atwood Wilson, felt differently and argued that Cassius would be a success in life: “Why, in one night, he’ll make more money than the principal and all you teachers make in one year. If every teacher here fails him, he’s still not going to fail.” When Cassius’ name was announced at the commencement ceremony, his fellow students gave him a standing ovation.

When the U.S. women’s national soccer team won the first Women’s World Cup in 1991, team member Julie Foudy thought that women’s soccer would immediately become very popular in the United States. She was wrong, although later women’s soccer did become much more popular. No one met the team at the airport, and when one of her Stanford professors learned what she had done, the professor said, “You won the World Cup? Oh. That’s wonderful. Welcome back. Here is your final exam in human biology.”

Even at six months old, Tiger Woods was learning how to be a golfer. As Tiger sat in a highchair, his father, Earl, demonstrated to him how to hit golf balls. When Tiger was old enough to swing his first golf club — a putter with the top of the handle sawn off — he wiggled the club twice before hitting the ball, exactly as his father was accustomed to do. His father says, “His first swing was a perfect imitation of mine. It was like looking at myself in a miniature mirror.”

While attending college, Steven Spielberg made a film titled Amblin’ that attracted the notice of Sidney Sheinberg, head of television production at Universal Studios. When Mr. Sheinberg offered young Steven a job, he objected that he hadn’t graduated from college yet. Mr. Sheinberg asked, “Do you want to go to college or do you want to direct?” Mr. Spielberg said later, “I quit college so fast, I didn’t even clean out my locker.”

As a female student in medical school in the late 19th century when that was unusual, Maria Montessori showed unusual dedication. When a snowstorm battered Rome, Ms. Montessori still made it to class, even though the bottom of her dress was wet from the deep snows. That day, she was the only student to show up for the class — the professor did not cancel the class, but instead lectured to her alone.

As a young girl, future Secretary of State Madeleine Albright attended the Kent School for Girls in Denver, Colorado, where she once won an eighth-grade contest by listing all 51 member states of the United Nations in alphabetical order. At every school she attended, she started a new club to study foreign policy — she admits that one advantage of starting a new club is that you can name yourself president.

As an 11-year-old boy, Rudolf Nureyev auditioned for Anna Udeltsova. She was impressed and told him, “Child, you have a duty to yourself to learn classical dancing! With such an innate gift, you must join the students of the Maryinsky Theater.” Unfortunately, young Rudolf’s family had no money to pay for ballet lessons. Fortunately, Ms. Udeltsova was so impressed by young Rudolf’s talent that she taught him without charge.

While living in Burr Oak, Iowa, Laura Ingalls Wilder, author of Little House on the Prairie, used to live above a grocery store. In the afternoons, she and her sister Mary practiced elocution — reading out loud with feeling — for school. They didn’t know it, but grocery store customers used to come by regularly and stand where they could hear the girls read exciting stories and poems.

While in high school, oceanographer Jacques Cousteau was bored, so he broke 17 windows. The high school authorities were unimpressed by his explanation for his misdeed — he said that he had wanted the windows to look like they had been shot out by a band of marauding cowboys. His parents immediately sent him to a strict boarding school where he matured and improved his grades.

Even after releasing a single titled “It’s Like That” in March of 1983, the members of the rap group Run-D.M.C. weren’t sure that their music career would continue, so they enrolled in college. Jay “Jam Master Jay” Mizell later explained, “Everyone said rap was a fad. I knew death wasn’t a fad, so I majored in mortuary science.”

Jackie Bouvier, who was later known as Jackie Kennedy Onassis, attended Miss Porter’s Finishing School in Farmington, Connecticut. That was a good idea, as she did need finishing. At the school, she once dumped a chocolate pie — upside down — onto the lap of a teacher she disliked.

International students make major contributions to the colleges and universities where they study. In 1981, the University of Texas-El Paso won the NCAA Track and Field Championships. Not one of its 70 points was scored by a USAmerican.

Trinity College at the University of Cambridge is known for its arrogance. When one of its Fellows won a Nobel Prize, the Master began his speech by saying, “Anywhere else, I could say that is a very special occasion.”

Colin Powell was accepted by both New York University and the City College of New York in 1954. Deciding which college to attend was easy — yearly tuition at NYU was $750, while yearly tuition at CCNY was only $10.

Gymnast Mary Lou Retton was once asked whether training for the Olympics and missing school had hurt her education. She replied, “While other kids were reading about the Great Wall, I was walking on it.”

On his 16th birthday, Neil Armstrong, who became the first person on the moon, received his student pilot’s license — before he received his driver’s license.

Seattle Mariner Alex Rodriguez’ mother was a waitress. To teach her baseball-playing son math skills, she used to have him count her tips.


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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