I started college while still in high school.
While many students wisely take advantage of this opportunity now, few students knew their rights when I was in high school.
My family moved from Colorado back to Michigan during my senior year, and my new school’s graduation requirements were less demanding than those of my Colorado high school. I only needed one credit to graduate, but was expected to be a full-time student.
Unfortunately, while a much larger school (I went from a class of 25 to a class of 136), Luther L. Wright High School did not offer many of the classes I had been taking in Colorado. No psychology, no A.P. literature and no journalism. So my day started with the required course for graduation — government and economics — followed by an enlightening sociology class during second hour, and then padded with choir, serving as a library aide, study hall, and an English class identical to one I’d taken my junior year.
My mother went to bat for me.
She fought the school administration and school board until I was allowed to enroll in a few classes at Gogebic Community College. The school district paid the tuition, but would not provide any transportation.
So during the second semester of my senior year, I left the high school after lunch and walked a mile to college, unless my parents had allowed me to take a car to school that day. There may have been a few times when I bummed a ride/hitchhiked. (Sorry, Mom. What can I say? One is not wise at 17.)
On Monday, Wednesday and Friday, I took Freshman Composition 101, and Tuesdays and Thursdays offered desktop publishing.
Why am I sharing this?
My very first college professor, Kenneth Bowman, taught the freshman comp class. He passed away this week at the age of 80.
I learned so much from Mr. Bowman. I still have the textbooks from that class, and many of the papers I wrote. I aced his first test, and found myself both mortified and pleased when he announced to the rest of the class that a student still in high school earned the top grade.
I continued as a student at GCC for two years after high school. Mr. Bowman served as my advisor and as my director. As a secondary education major with an English emphasis, I took several of his English literature courses, public speaking and his philosophy classes. In addition to his teaching and advisor duties, he also played an active role in the college’s drama department. He served as the director of GCC’s 1994 production of “Pride and Prejudice.”
I auditioned hoping to play Elizabeth Bennet.
He cast me as her mother.
After Liz and Darcy, Mrs. Bennet had the most lines in the play. I value the faith he showed in offering me a lead role, and how he helped me gain confidence in myself.
GCC’s new student orientation included presentations of all the college had to offer, and in 1993, Bowman spoke about the drama opportunities. He recruited several of his drama students to “heckle” him during his presentation to help showcase the program. We loved filling that role.
Teaching was his second career. He served in the U.S. Air Force from 1955 to 1977 with a focus on communications. He served as the non-commissioned officer in charge of the White House Communications Center in Washington D.C. and accompanied the president, vice-president and secretary of state on trips around the world.
After leaving the Air Force, he followed the same education path my maternal grandmother did, attending Gogebic, Northland College in Ashland, Wis., and Northern Michigan University. He taught English in the Ironwood Area School District before beginning his career at GCC.
My father often called GCC the gem of Ironwood, and he was right. GCC offered a great education at an affordable price and its English department included three instructors who remain among my favorites: Mr. Bowman, Patrick O’Neil and Jeannie Milakovich.
William Arthur Ward, known for his inspirational maxims, wrote, “The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.”
Ken Bowman inspired and challenged me in my writing, speaking and leadership skills, and self-confidence. He helped me find my voice as a writer.
Friends and former students shared links to his obituary on Facebook, and the comments mourning his loss made his legacy as an educator apparent.
As students return to school this month, I hope they share my good fortune and meet a teacher like Ken Bowman.
Thank you, Mr. Bowman. For everything.