Life on the Docks

Essay from an anonymous student:

Call him David–that’s his name. And much like the Biblical King, he was young; nineteen years old, to be exact. Fresh out of high school and acclimating into his first semester of college, he decided to take a weekend off. He’d visit the docks—it would be nice, he thought. Free from the burdens of higher education,  would enjoy an afternoon by the seashore, the sea breeze running through his mane, the salt in the air tickling his tongue and leaving the fresh taste of ocean waters. 

David noticed a sign on the docks. In a bright red eye-catching scribble, a local resident had written: “seeking: boat repair apprentice.” Most walked by the sign unbothered; but not David, whose mind immediately sprinted to his image of an American Dream. For David, happiness was life on Cape Cod—the broad gray sky, low sandy beaches, and the thin scrub pines. For David, the suggestion of a boat on the horizon was much more captivating than yet another Chemistry test—one on which David could seldom expect a grade his parents would approve of. 

David took the man up on his offer, picking himself up by his bootstraps and moving to the Cape. 

David knew my English teacher. My English teacher, Mr. McCullough, ever so generously graded David’s life. To him, it was a B-. 

To me, this seemed rather ironic. My English teacher shares literature with us that expresses various perspectives on the American Dream. To Steinbeck, it was priceless; to Thoreau, it was a bit more complicated. Mr. McCullough, a lifetime member of the Walden Pond pool club and a man whose affinity for American literature is unmatched, adores Thoreau’s insistence on living life separate from social expectations. “All good things are wild and free,” Thoreau remarked on life.  And yet, Mr. McCullough claimed his own Nephew’s life – one lived freely and distant from societal expectations–was a B-. How might this be? Is it that David maybe didn’t do well on a boating exam? 

Somewhat ironically, this story reminds me of that of King David; a young man with the courage necessary to defeat the looming monster ahead of him—his uncle’s expectations. David approached life in a way contrary to most students—the 75% of them who hate school, according to Yale University research—and took a grand leap of faith that led him to tranquil life in serene Chatham Massachusetts. A young man whose convictions would lead him to go against the rolling tide and bring him to the docks. A young man who now spends his days enjoying his simple life rather than toiling at a desk job. 

All due respect to my English teacher—Mr. McCullough, if you’re reading this, I am so sorry and beg you not to let this impact your grades on our upcoming essay—but I disagree with his assertion that David’s life was deserving only of a B-. Although I recognize as well as anyone his acclimation toward grade deflation, I question how Mr. McCullough may make such claims. But who knows: maybe in his eyes David didn’t live an A+ life. Maybe I won’t either. But as long as, like David on the cape, I find happiness—even if it is not on the seashore, where the sand can tickle my feet—I will take his grade, scribbled in bright red font, and wear it as a badge of honor. 


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