Opinion Column

Paul Kelly talks about taking the road less travelled

By Paul Kelly

Submitted photo 

A young Paul Kelly in seen here at his kindergarten graduation with his teacher Arlene Brash.

Submitted photo A young Paul Kelly in seen here at his kindergarten graduation with his teacher Arlene Brash.

Last night my oldest daughter, Ava, accomplished something I have never done: she graduated from Grade 12. Yes. It’s true. I never did.

My own children know the story. It has long been a source of laughter and good-natured ribbing from my siblings. I am not proud of it but facts are facts.

There are many standard punchlines used: High School was the best 10 years of my life (It was six actually). I was on the “Party Scholarship”. I was older than some of my teachers! (Truthfully we were very close in age)

To me, if it’s not a source of pride, then it should be at least an illustrative history of what not to do and how not to approach your studies.

Now, for the record, I did graduate from high school with a Grade 13 diploma. But I went through Grade 13 twice.

To put it into a clear perspective, in the six years I was in high school, I failed a course – or several courses – in every term until the sixth year’s first term (Gr. 13 Take 2) – then flunked a subject in the second term.

Looking back I don’t really know where it all went so wrong. I had loving parents. I came from a good home. My siblings had gone to the same school with a measure of success. My closest sibling, my brother Steve, hadn’t exactly been an angel but he got into Queen’s University!

I am pretty sure I got turned down for barber school. Later on, after high school, I quit college – twice.

My mother would tell you the only teacher I ever liked was my kindergarten teacher Mrs. Brash. She was a lovely woman. But I had my fair share of good teachers along the way. I guess it just wasn’t that important to me. Doing well. School. Perhaps, I didn’t grasp the seriousness of the situation. Maybe I still don’t.

But my two daughters often fret about doing well, getting good grades and passing. I find it endearing really. I can’t really offer any advice to them other than “Do better than I did” which means if they show up to class, they already are.

Presently, I work with friends that knew me in high school. I think they get a good chuckle out of me being a teacher. Once, I was sitting down in the staff room for lunch with one of my all-time favourite English teachers. I asked him if he had ever envisioned having lunch with me in the staff room. He told me it was quite “ironic”.

But I talk to a lot of students that struggle to do well and I simply tell them that I know how that feels. I grappled with how to do well. I struggled with how to focus and get through. Or students that have no clue as to what to do with their lives, or what to study or where to go, and I am able to tell them that I struggled with all of that too. And I still do.

I see people struggle with conformity or authority and I tell them that I struggled with that too. But, at the end of the day, it all worked out. I went on to do some really cool stuff. I have two university degrees. At university, I was an 'A' student.

I meet tremendously impressive teenagers everyday. Kids that, when you look at their accomplishments, you just think of how great they are and how clueless you were at that age – even now in fact.

Teens get maligned often but there are some great kids out there working hard, competing, earning scholarships, making a difference.

But there are still others that struggle and I was one of them. They are trying to cobble together some life plan, some course of study, a niche not knowing for many there is no one path, there is no one answer. And there is nothing wrong with that.

People fail. I failed. People struggle. I struggled. Paths change. Poor decisions are not life ending. Been there. Done that.

My own daughter – the Grade 12 graduate – has had a great academic career and now is off to Dalhousie University.

I’ve been blessed to have been with her most of the way. She has been well-served by the education system and by some truly great teachers. That was her journey. Mine was a little less focused, had a few more potholes and bumps along the way. It wasn’t perfect by any measure. All of that was my fault. But it worked out.

I have no interest in rewriting history or denying it – there is no point. But if you know of someone struggling, trying to make it all work out, tell them that it does work out.

We all have a journey that we are on – just that some are more rocky (and fun) than others.

I took the one less travelled by, and that has made all the difference.