Left is the 'Special Ed' car I had to go to summer school in. I begged my mom to get me out of Special Ed, which was then called LAC (Learning Assistance Class). When I was in 8th grade, she did, but my convincing plea unfortunately landed me in a private school where I was assigned modules to work on by myself at my own pace, the same as Special Ed. Fortunately, I got kicked out of there, and was left to struggle in public school again, this time outside of LAC. I didn't get great grades, but it felt good to be on my own. It wasn't until my 3rd year in college, only 3 painstaking classes away from having a "two year degree", did I hit the "dyslexic wall". I was reported to the "LAC police" and back to bonehead testing I went. From there I continued my full-time nine-year journey to finally receive my "two year degree".
My greatest side ache is remembering the unnecessary hardship I went through in today's society with a "learning disability", and the struggle it was to graduate from college in our current scholastic system. Yet I had more than "normal" drive, determination, and ambition, not just to succeed, but to reach my specific goals. During college, I had already started my own business and had big clients such as Eden Hospital and American Brass and Iron Foundry. I found it ironic that my college peers didn't know what they wanted to major in or grow up to be. I knew what I wanted when I was seven and had set goals when I was twelve.
In high school, a counselor had suggested college. I said to the counselor, "why would I want to continue this agony?". I wanted to broaden my photography experience into Film Production, Directing, and Cinematography. Not re-learn History, Math and all that. To narrow down a direction to pursue a career in film, I took a 168 question career test during my senior year. The cover read: This inventory will help you to define the kinds of work you are interested in doing. During the test, I thought, "wow, those are some in-depth questions, I bet they are going to say I'm fit for some really cool job". My results indicated that I was best suited to be a "custodian or janitor". Obviously they had never seen my bedroom.
I knew I would have to figure it out for myself. I had a long-term plan to go to a trade school, skipping the general education schools. I laugh when I remember the time I called a highly acclaimed specialty school, "Brooks Institute" in Santa Barbara. When I asked how much it was to go there, they didn't want to tell me. I asked them to give me an estimate, a ball park figure for one semester. I was in shock when they told me! I hung up the phone as if it was a anonymous call. It was so much money, I was scared. I was hoping they could not trace the phone back to me! I barely made it out of high school, so I knew without even having a thought about it that I wouldn't qualify for a scholarship, not with my GPA. My parents said I would have to pay for school myself, and at $3.35 per hour working as a file clerk at a collection agency, it wasn't going to be Brooks.
My other option was getting my general education requirements out of the way in community college, then transferring as a junior to a university to finish my degree in Film Production, my dream. Spending the first two years at a community college, at $65.00 tuition per semester, was clearly a more realistic option for me than attempting to go all four years at a state university, where the tuition was over $500.00 per semester. San Francisco State's Film Program wouldn't even consider me for the 20 students admitted if I did not have a two-year transfer, so I painfully agreed to go through the general education to get what "I" wanted.
In my house, college was never encouraged. In fact, we knew growing up that we were expected to get out as soon as we turned eighteen. No one in my entire family had a college degree. If anything, they'd gone to a trade school. My mom, who spells "cat" with a "k", graduated from beauty school like her mother. My grandfather never finished college and he was a NASA engineer. When I finally decided to --back my dream --with a degree, I went through the "proper" channels to get a "proper" education, jumping through the college hoops. It was painful to sign that piece of paper committing myself to a two-year degree, and to take hard cold cash out of my $3.35 an hour pay, knowing I would spend two years of my days and evenings struggling with the same subjects I had in high school before I would ever see light projected through a piece of film I made in school. Still, I felt oddly good about going to college. It was something "I" wanted. I knew I would learn more about technology and have access to equipment. At the same time, I dreamed up owning my own business and registered it that year (Playback Video Network, now Playback.net Video Film Multimedia). I declared a major in Radio and Television Broadcasting to keep me well-rounded in production while I pursued a B.A. in Film Production.
What I ended up with was "BS" (bullsh _ t) and a Masters in Life from the School of Hard Knocks. I just couldn't pass the math. I was writing the numbers in problems in the wrong sequence, working on that, and always coming up with the wrong answer. It had been hard enough to commit two years of my life to what ended up taking nine years to get. (They never mentioned that the "two-year degree" was two dog years! That's seven years for every one, which means I graduated early as far as dogs are concerned). After seven people years, it had become a thorn in my side not to finish. I knew then that I would never be able to afford the money or time it would take to go on to state college, but I had to finish that "two-year degree". The college newspaper featured a story about me titled "Dyslexic student beats the odds" when I finally graduated with my two-dog-year degree.
My formal education complete, I started writing a book entitled "Blessed With Dyslexia: and my chapter on school, "Stop Spelling and Start Writing" is about my educational experience. In my research, I went back to interview my elementary school LAC teacher about my struggles. She was so proud of my educational and professional accomplishments, she asked me to speak to her current Special Ed students. Naturally, I was honored. There I saw a lot of kids hungry for inspiration and some validation. I told them about famous dyslexics who shared their challenge, and I involved them in a professional ad being produced by my company. The students helped me come up with color schemes for this logo, and also joined me on a tour of the company's pickle factory. Each student sat in the president's seat with their feet on the desk and answered the phone. It was a lot of fun. It also helped me define my goals in the educational process. I believe the need for self-esteem is greater than the need to spell it. As a business woman I realized I need to keep my edge by being on top of technology, so years after I graduated I went back to College and studied web and multi media to offer it to my clients. Incredibly, it was also an avenue to reach out to the world, one small girl (or I should say woman) has enlightened (or irratated) so many people around the world, from a small town Castro Valley. That is remarkable to me, because when I conceived my book I knew it would have limitations, but the web has opened up so much ability to inspire millions. The letters I receive inspire me to keep going.
I also created an imaginary University to inspire free thinkers. Although many people with learning differences have gotten past their difficulties and achieved great things, there is still a population that has given up hope and lacks the confidence it takes to truly succeed. I hope to give back the inspiration, courage, and self-esteem that was given to me when I discovered that I had a hero, Einstein, to look up to.
Next time you turn on a light, remember it was created by a man with a learning disability. If you appreciate the fact that you have light to see in the dark, support my efforts to bring light to dyslexia.
"Blessed With Dyslexia"