Starting out my college education at DePauw University was an eye opener. I thought I was pretty hot stuff when it came to writing. Boy was my ego slapped down! Many decades later, it is time to express my enduring thanks to Dr. Clem Williams, my freshman English professor. He saved me big time.
Dr. Williams became the first of many Harvard Ph.D’s who played an instrumental role in my educational career. Each one was an excellent mentor to me, Clem just was the first.
You see in my freshman English class, my mid-term grade was a D minus, minus. Yes, that is not a typo. After getting straight A’s in English at Poland High School in Poland, Ohio, I soon discovered that not having any formal grammar training from the 8th grade forward left me in a house of pain!
Now my ideas were good. The execution sucked big time. This is where Dr. Williams stepped in. As we were leaving class one day, I heard Mr. Katula, I need to speak with you. He then asked me to visit him at his office the next day at 3pm. You see these details are seared in my memory.
Not thinking anything was wrong, I showed up right on time at his office. “Take a seat, Mr. Katula,” he instructed. Without another word, he pulled out my mid-term and said, “I did not give you an F because I like you and feel you have a lot of talent.” I then saw the “D–” on the bluebook exam.
If that was not enough to make me pass out, what Dr. Williams proposed next stunned me into silence. Instead of focusing on the negative, he instead asked me, no demanded that I come to his office twice a week so he could personally help me. I was given personal writing assignments that he edited right in front of me. Mind you, I was one of about 20 freshman in his class, plus he had other students. He could have let me fail. Yet he made a commitment to me that changed my life.
The special attention did not end when the final grade was issued. The C+ I received was one of the greatest ever. But he gave me the confidence to write. I ended up publishing several articles in the school newspaper and each time he congratulated me.
But wait, it gets better. When my brother graduated four years after me from DePauw, Dr. Williams announced his retirement. I came up to him after the ceremony and wished him well and profusely thanked him again. He just gave me a wink of the eye and said, “you are quite welcome, Mr. Katula.” And that was the last time I ever saw or talked to him.
Two important lessons were learned that first semester at DePauw. One was my high school did a poor job of preparing me for the rigors of college. I was totally out of place to be cocky about my writing ability. Second, I found out how important and vital a good mentor could be to anyone.
Remembering those days brings a tear or two to my eyes. Unbelievably, there were two other Harvard Ph.D’s that great influenced my career, only in political science.
But I will never, ever forget that first meeting in Clem’s office. Thank you, sir. I want you to know the gift you gave me keeps on living and growing. I have done my best to pass it on.