The Fruit Of Persistence: When You Think You Can’t Make It

By Thorney
My family moved to Fontana about 75 years ago, primarily so my father could get work at Kaiser Steel, like so many did from the Midwest. I attended the Fontana school system from kindergarten through high school. Fontana was a rough town during this period. There were a lot of car clubs and gangs, including the Hells Angels.
During those years I realized that I had an ability to read people and work out difficult situations. This ability resulted in my having more street experience than education. I considered school to be something I had to do and to complete. Therefore, my academic achievement reflected my lack of interest, except for math. I was lucky to graduate in 1957.
During my last years in high school, I took on small jobs. One job that had an impact on me was working for a plastering contractor. This was a summer job where I could learn a craft. To get the job I offered my labor for no pay. I worked very hard and learned how to plaster. After a couple of weeks, because of my hard work and determination, they decided to start paying me. But after high school I went to work for Kaiser Steel as a laborer. Later I decided to join the Army.
After a couple of years in the Army, as a cook on a missile base in Alaska, I was discharged and returned home. Later in 1960 I received an invitation to attend DeVry Technical Institute in Chicago. Because my academic record had been poor and tests difficult for me to take, I was reluctant. With encouragement from my father, I decided to attend. If nothing else, it would be an experience to be in Chicago. The school found me a place to stay and a part time job. But the work only paid for tuition at DeVry. Therefore, after a while I ran out of money for food and resorted to eating only peanuts. After I had gotten sick a number of times, a student friend suggested I see a doctor. He told me that I would have to start eating better or he would have to operate. I called home and my parents sent me enough money to get food for a short time, but they were limited on the amount they could send. I pressed the school for another job that paid more, and they found one for me.
All my classmates and my roommate ridiculed me about having to stay up all night trying to understand the material. They would tell me “you will never make it,” but I was determined to get through. I had a C average, except for the class on transformer theory, which I understood.
After 15 months of study, I graduated. I came home to Fontana and started looking for a job. I heard that North American Aviation in Palmdale was hiring. They were looking for electronic technicians for the XB-70, so I applied. I was required to take a three-hour electronics test. I had no confidence whatsoever. I just didn’t think I knew anything. To my surprise, I passed. I then realized that with hard work and determination, I could accomplish anything.
After one year of working on aircraft, I decided to attend college. For enrollment in a junior college I had to take an SAT test. Well, the “dumbbell from Fontana” scored embarrassingly low. I did get a high score in math. So, the college requested that I take three remedial classes. I studied hard and got acceptable grades.
The school also required I take aptitude tests once a week. At the end of the quarter, a psychologist reviewed my tests scores. They indicated I had a lot of talent in everything except education. But she did say my math scores were high.
About that time North American Aviation was purchased by Rockwell International and there was a rumor that we would be moved to Los Angeles. I decided to terminate, move back home to Fontana and looked for work elsewhere.
During my searches for employment I found an opening at Lockheed Aircraft Service Company in Ontario. I was hired as an electronic tech working on production aircraft crash recorders. It wasn’t long before I realized that this was easy work and something that I understood. I could fix, with ease, some of the most complex systems. After becoming a test engineer, I spent a year in Kansas City working with TWA. When we completed the contract, I came home. This was when I decided to go to college.
I enrolled at Chaffey College and took all the classes I could. There my counselor provided me with some valuable advice. He informed me that if I took the right classes and acquired an associate of arts degree with a state of California stamp of approval, this would eliminate additional classes I would have needed to graduate from a four-year college. Also, he advised me that if I could concentrate on the SAT test and achieve a high score, there could be some scholarships in it for me. I did not know that high schools offer or can offer preliminary practice tests, called a PS, to increase a student’s score. Upon completion of all the course work at Chaffey, I applied to Cal Poly, Pomona. My major was business administration with an emphasis in finance. After a time, I began to excel in some of my classes.
While at Cal Poly, I was asked to represent the business student body. This involved meeting with faculty to discuss curriculum adjustments and students’ activities. It was during that time that I was asked to represent Cal Ploy in business games played against other universities. I performed very well in these games. To complete the degree program, I had to write a senior project. I worked very hard on the questionnaire portion and was able to achieve a 40 percent response. The finance department professors could hardly believe I was able to get such a response, when normally questionnaires only get 20 percent and that would have been considered adequate. They selected my project for display for other students to see and they also awarded me a one-time stipend or dollar amount. Also, I submitted this project to the business department for completion of another degree in office management. During my final year, I decided to attend graduate school at Cal Poly. To be admitted, a student needs to take the GMAT test. I took the test and failed it. The dean of my department suggested that if I applied to a different discipline, I would have to take the GRE test, which is much easier, instead of the GMAT. Once admitted I could change majors and transfer to a business program. This testing ability seemed to be the story of my life.
I was very disappointed in the results of the test and my rejection by Cal Poly. But this built my determination to push on and find another college. I applied at Cal State San Bernardino, which admitted me because of my high grades, on a temporary basis. The university hired me as student assistant for the graduate program, which helped with tuition. As usual, I worked very hard and studied late into the night. During my final year I took a class entitled finance and accounting, which I really liked. As a final exam in that course, we were given a case study on a company merger. We could work in study groups, and I thought, since there were two certified public accountants in the class, this would be easy. I tried to get involved with the group, but did not like the direction in which they were going. So, I went off on my own and tried to answer the questions. When I finished, I submitted my paper. Three or four days later, imagine my surprise when a friend called to tell me my paper was in the library on display for other students to see. He also said that I got an A+, the highest grade in the class. Can you believe that someone who barely made it through Fontana High School and an electronics school and who failed the SAT and the GMAT tests, would do so well?
The point here is that if you believe in yourself and work real hard, at anything, nothing but good things will come from your efforts. If I only would have realized that maybe because of my understanding of street language and not proper English, tests were difficult for me to take. So, I think, it is essential that in high school one learn sentence structure, diction and what comprises a sentence. This seems easy, but when you get into diagramming a sentence and identifying the parts of speech, diction, etc., it can be difficult.
Why this concentration? All tests are put together by the academics and the words chosen for the questions are selected for a reason. For any multiple-choice question, the way the question is put together and the answer choices provided will almost always tell you which two choices are the likeliest correct responses or sometimes the one that is the right answer.

Leave a Reply