Failure...A Speed Bump, Not a Stop Sign by Melissa Bergen / by Amerika Nino-Rodriguez

I walked into my Bakersfield College Introduction to Writing course, my first semester of college in the Fall of 2000.  We were going to get our first papers back in this class period.  I had done well in high school writing courses.  I was looking forward to getting my first official “good grade” in college.

Papers were handed back to us and I can still remember that grade in red ink.


So many thoughts instantly started spinning in my head:

“What?! D?!”

“I am going to fail college.”

“If I can’t write a paper, how am I going to pass this class.”

“If I can’t pass this class, how am I going to reach my goals of transferring out of BC and finishing college?”

I tried to quiet all the thoughts and tune back into class as my professor was addressing the class.

“The majority of you did not pass this assignment.  That’s normal.  There’s a lot to learn about college level writing.  We will work at this together, and please, if you got a grade that you did not expect, I want to help you.  Come see me after class or during office hours.”

As class ended that day, I had two thoughts--I could go run and hide, disappointed in myself and ashamed of my D or I could listen to my professor and ask for help.  I remember taking a full minute once class was dismissed thinking about my options, watching others students either leave the class or stop to ask for help from the professor.  The line to speak to the professor was actually blocking my way out of the classroom.  I decided to stay in my seat and listen.  Other students were saying the same things that had been spinning in my head moments ago.  Knowing that I was not alone gave me the strength to ask for help.  I joined the line of students waiting to speak with the professor.

My first reaction when I saw that “D” was that I was a failure.  Asking for help was incredibly difficult. My hands were shaking as I held my paper out to my professor.  My voice was shaking too.  And, I was trying to hold back tears as I told a complete stranger, my professor, that I failed.

I spoke to the professor that day and a number of other times that semester, after class and during her office hours.  I worked hard.  I took every bit of advice the professor gave me.

I did struggle through some courses and obtained some grades that were not ideal; however, the big picture is that I did not "fail" at college. I met challenges but I learned to work through them. The shock of seeing "D's" and "F's" made me feel like I was a failure. The reality is that I just needed to work through those challenges to ensure that I succeeded in college. I needed to ask for help and work hard.

For some of us the challenges of college work may mean spending a little more time at the library or with our professors and for others it may mean changing course of study.  I think the real failure would have been giving up on my dream of obtaining my college degree.

I graduated from Fresno Pacific University in 2004 with a 3.2 GPA.

I started school again last Fall to pursue a Master’s degree in Community Leadership and Transformation and I still ask for help from my professors and spend lots of time working hard in the library.

Melissa Bergen
Pastor, Iglesia Compañerismo Cristiano
Local Missions Director, Shafter Mennonite Brethren Church
Master’s Graduate Student, Fresno Pacific University
Born and raised in Shafter