From Marvin's Book: The Story of a Professor and a Promise, 2011.
While I am in my office scrutinizing revision after revision of a letter I had decided to bring to the college president asking TCC to consider awarding Marvin a degree, a gentle knock comes at my office door. Very few students come to see me this early in the year so my manners are rusty.
“Come in!” I shout and a hand makes the doorknob click, but apparently it’s locked.
I stand up and open the door, wave my student-guest in and try to shake Marvin’s letter out of my head.
My student talks softly and smiles warmly. He asks whether or not to close the door and I shake my head no.
Dr. V., the professor occupying the office next to me, likes to sneak up and scare me when my door is mostly closed. Once he got me to scream and toss my Diet Coke in the air.
My student wanted me to know he’d missed class because he’d been in a motorcycle accident. I ask him to leave the door wide open and keep my ear out for Dr. V.
He wanted to pick up the exam that I’d handed back. I found it for him while he sat quietly and looked around at my books. His exam was on the top of the pile. 20/20.
“Great, here you go, no bloopers.”
Once I handed him the paper, I realized what he’d said.
I finally heard him.
A motorcycle accident. Wow. I told him about my student Marvin, who’d been in a car accident.
I thanked him for not dying, and he shook his head in disbelief.
“I could’ve died. And that would’ve been it.”
“Just, it,” I add, and then ask him if he had done enough here, yet.
“No, not nearly,” and we laughed.
“Were you ready?” I asked, not expecting him to answer.
He did. “Oh yes, I was…I am.”
I asked how his classes were going and he smiled. He’d earned straight A’s in his first semester at TCC and definitely was on track to do so again.
I clapped for him, and told him to keep the momentum going. We talked about a few other things I can’t remember. He asked questions about a few things from lecture, I answered them.
Because the document was still on my computer screen, and the story was still thick in my head, I decided to share it with my student-guest.
We both choked up. I handed him a tissue, and gave one to myself.
As he got ready to leave my office, I gave him a few shiny lucky rocks. One for protection, one for creativity, another for peace. He pulled his leather jacket on and got ready to leave my office.
Impulsively, tearfully, we hugged.
He smelled like the ocean and soap. Then he left, and I turned back to Marvin’s letter, aiming to deliver it to the president’s desk before my first class.
I read the letter three more times on my computer screen, printed it, re-read it, then assembled it into a folder that included Marvin’s printed college transcripts, his picture and the letter.
A colleague advised me to write “personal and confidential” across the folder to make sure it would get the president’s attention. I hoped he wasn’t joking with me, because I took his advice.
Here it is.
I was pleased and surprised to receive your letter informing me of the NISOD award. I am humbled by the recognition and look forward to seeing you at the Board of Directors meeting on February 15, 2010.
I hope you can find a few minutes that day to speak to me about a TCC student, Marvin Scott, who was a student in two of my classes: AMH 1041 (Fall 1999) and AMH 1050 (Spring 2000).
Marvin Scott was never late to class, never missed a class, never turned a single assignment in late, and never missed a test, even though taking my essay exams were hard for him.
While students around him would fill their papers with lines and lines of rolling fat sentences or bulleted in all caps, Marvin wrote slowly and deliberately, blacking out his wrong answers, replacing them with carefully phrased responses. Every single exam Marvin took, he was the last one to finish.
Writing was not easy for Marvin but he didn’t give up. The A he earned in my AMH 1041 class was the first A he earned in an academic subject during his college career.
If you glance at his transcript, you’ll notice that when Marvin came to TCC his test scores placed him in all Developmental/College Preparatory courses.
Undaunted, undiscouraged, semester after semester, Marvin retook courses in which he didn’t succeed, mastering the skills he knew he needed to have in order to fulfill his dream of graduating from college and becoming a teacher.
By Spring semester of 2000, Marvin was well on his way to graduating until he missed my class for the first time.
I remember standing in the doorway of my classroom, looking up and down the hallway for him, expecting to see him carrying his thin red folder, shaking his head in self-deprecation.
He never arrived, and I never saw Marvin Scott again.
On his way back to Tallahassee from his family’s home in Chiefland, Marvin Scott died in a single-car accident.
Dr. Law, as this year brings a bittersweet ten-year anniversary of Marvin Scott’s death, I would like to ask you for a favor.
Will you please give serious consideration to awarding Marvin Scott an honorary AA degree at graduation on May 1?
It would mean the world to me, and to his family, to honor and Marvin’s work and his short but incredibly important and inspiring life.
Every semester, I tell my students that it isn’t enough for me to see them pass my class—I don’t feel successful until I see them walk across the stage. I look forward to seeing you on February 15.
On February 14, the night before the board meeting, I got sick. It was a long night, and an awful morning, exacerbated by the kids being home for President’s Day. At first I wondered, “Is this a test?” and “Is this an omen?” and then I cuddled up on the sofa and let the kids run free around me.
When Brittany—the much-loved babysitter—arrived, I fixed myself up with a little concealer and blush, grabbed a bottle of water and stiffly got into my car.
At the administration building my dean told me that the NISOD candidates didn’t need to be there after all. I crossed my arms. No, not after all I’ve been through to get here. I have to talk to Dr. Law about Marvin’s degree. My dean remembered something. “I saw an honorary degree on the agenda, stay.”
So I stayed, feeling much better, marveling at how quickly the magical universe worked.
I’d like to give you a happy ending right here and now, and tell you that everything went exactly as I hoped it would go, but it didn’t.
Dr. Law and the board of directors awarded a posthumous honorary degree to a TCC student who had been a Gulf War Veteran.
Waves of the flu swam back up and down from the pit of my stomach and when a crowd of people surged to speak to Dr. Law, I slipped home, exhausted.
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