Getting Started & Finding My Way
(Part 4)

This is part 4 of a series of essays about when I was a young man (30+ years ago) trying to figure out how to “make it” in the world. Click HERE to go back to the beginning of the series.


In the fall of 1976 I headed off to school at The Grassroots Project in Vermont. It was a different kind of school. The curriculum was a mix of various outdoor activities and experiences, with a little classroom instruction. We cut wood with crosscut saws and chainsaws and hauled it with horses and oxen. We camped and canoed and did chores on the school’s farm. It was hands-on learning and it was a neat time.

I was away from home, pretty much on my own, and in such a beautiful, inspiring place. I did well in that environment and it was a good year for me, even if I never did go skiing. People find it hard to believe I went to school in northern Vermont and never went skiing. There were certainly ski slopes nearby and a lot of kids did go skiing on the weekends through the winter. But those kids had no problems when it came to finances. Many of them had their own vehicles, bought by their parents. I had only so much money to get me through the year and I was real careful about how I spent it. I still had a full and active and fun time, even without skiing. I didn't miss it. But an unfortunate situation developed near the end of the school year.

The school assessed all students an additional 10% tuition fee. It amounted to $400. As much as I liked the school, I didn’t think it had delivered the educational experience it had presented in the catalog. Some things were never taught (a blacksmithing class comes to mind). I called my mother, told her about the extra charge and explained that I didn’t think it was worth it.

If the school didn’t get the additional payment, I would have to leave two weeks before graduation, and I wouldn’t get a diploma. My mother said that she and my stepfather would come up with the money. I told her I was thinking of leaving, on principle. She told me to do whatever I thought was right.

Four hundred bucks seems so minor to me now. But it was a whole lot more money thirty two years ago. I didn’t have it and I knew my parents didn’t have it to spare. I wasn’t going to burden them with the payment. I could have asked my grandmother for the money. She had paid the tuition and could have paid the extra with no problem. She would have been glad to help. But I looked at money back then from my own limited socioeconomic position. I felt she had given so much already. I never asked her for the money, and she never knew.

The director of the school met with me and explained that the school would be glad to make arrangements for my family to pay the extra assessment in installments. I lied and told him money had nothing to do with it. I explained very nicely that my school year had been wonderful but I was disappointed that the school had not taught some of the things it had said it would in the school catalog. He agreed with me but explained that they were not obligated to do everything they presented. Other activities and programs were substituted. 

I had made up my mind. The director took it personally. He was greatly displeased with me, and made it clear that I needed to get out. 

So I left school two weeks before graduation, without a diploma. But I didn’t leave town.

To be continued......
Click HERE to go to Part 5 of this series

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