Perseverance pays dividends in school and life

Steven Corbin

Students are getting ready to head back to school for the second half of the academic year. One suggestion for all students to consider, more so when they are having difficulty with an assignment or subject, is simple: Don’t give up! Keep on trying. There are self-esteem, monetary and social class rewards for persevering.

An awakening moment for me occurred in the fall of 1966, when Loree Rackstraw, my English I professor, and in her first year at University of Northern Iowa, asked us immature freshman to write a two-page prose. I did as told.

At a future class meeting, the paper was returned with a red-colored “F.” No comment. Just an “F.” I called my older brother, Norm, a recent Iowa State graduate, who was entering Creighton’s law school. I told him the fate and pleaded for help. He said, “I presume you didn’t proofread the paper.” I was silent. Norm continued, “Never forget that education is a process and not an event. It appears you wrote the paper as if it was a single event versus a process of learning how to write.”

“Norm, what should I do?” His immediately reply, “Proofread the paper and resubmit it. Persevere in college, Steve, persevere.” I knew what he meant by proofreading, but didn’t fully comprehend the larger meaning of perseverance. “But Professor Rackstraw didn’t say to rewrite it,” was my retort. Norm immediately said, “I don’t care whether she asked you to rewrite it or not. You need to proof it and resubmit it as a lesson to yourself to keep trying. Never forget what Mom and Dad told us - when you face adversity, don’t quit.”

I swallowed the hard-core brotherly advice, rewrote the paper and sheepishly handed it to Professor Rackstraw. She said, “What’s this? I didn’t ask you to redo it.” I told her the story of conversing with my brother, trying to get some temporary grace. Professor Rackstraw shrugged her shoulders, smiled and said, “Okay, I’ll re-read it.”

The revised paper came back with “D” and a note, “Proofread and re-submit.”

Thinking that the third-time-would-be-a-charm, that document received a `C’ and a familiar note. Next round: `B’ and that pesky “resubmit” comment. The last submission came back with an ‘A,’ but also with a comment NO student, pre-school or doctoral candidate wants to read: “See me.”

Ms. Rackstraw said, “Steve, this paper is not worthy of an A, per se — it’s good but not great. You persevered. Your proofreading paid off. From now on, proofread everything you write a minimum of five times.”

One of the joys of my life was retelling this incident some 40 years later to a retired Loree Rackstraw at a U.N.I. reception we both attended. She smiled, gave me a hug and kissed me on the cheek, while a tear rolled out of her eye. She said, “I, too, remember that event, and it taught me a lot about teaching. Don’t give up on students. Keep trying and hope they’ll return the same don’t-give-up actions. And, you know Steve, life is all about perseverance.”

How many times, whether it’s with school, work, personal problems, neighbors, friends, strangers, supervisors and colleagues, has perseverance paid off? Hundreds. Possibly thousands. Despite all of the obstacles one is handed…persevere! And, oh, don’t forget to proofread.

P.S.: Offering advice to students in this article is chancy, since only 20 percent read a newspaper while about 40 percent of parents do the same (Pew Research Center, 2014). If you see my perseverance suggestion as worthy, consider sharing this article with a student you know. Did you know that the average annual income for a high school dropout is close to $8,000 less per year than a high school graduate, and about $20,000 less per year than a college graduate? Plus, social class increases with each additional level of education attained. Persevering has, at the very least, a multiple payout.

Dr. Steven B. Corbin, steven.b.corbin@gmail.com (private); steve.corbin@uni.edu (public); is Emeritus Professor of Marketing, University of Northern Iowa.