Navigating the way through college

By George Ploss

If there is one thing I stress, it’s learning to separate blame from responsibility. I am an African-German-American, a citizen, patriot, a student, Bulls, Sox and Bears fan. I grew up in an affluent, upper-middle class area across the street from the University of Chicago on the South Side. My dad was Federal Judge Thomas H. Ploss. German was my first language. We had season tickets every year at the Lyric Opera House. I was brought up in a free environment of culture that stressed personal awareness of society and erudition.

When my parents divorced, I moved from a 15-room home to a three-room apartment with my mom and sister farther south. I went to seven different elementary schools, a prestigious boarding school my first two years of high school and then, dare I say, to the best public school in the country, New Trier Township.

After graduation, I matriculated at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale for four semesters and transferred to the UIUC in fall 2005. I then withdrew, due to extenuating circumstances at home and on campus. My father became ill with Alzheimer’s and heart failure, and I was breaking up with my psycho girlfriend whom I’d been with for about two years. It was a rocky breakup to say the least due to the amalgam of emotions that were associated.

Afterward, I struggled to get back on my feet financially and emotionally. I hobbled and completed nine credit hours in spring of 2006 and fought to connect and communicate with my then-girlfriend who exuberated, on my behalf, love, patience, sincerity and youthful na’vet‚.

The summer came and I took a break and interned for a criminal defense law firm in Atlanta. I came back this fall refreshed and with a capricious attitude ready to begin the end of my undergraduate education.

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My father died on Oct. 12, 2006 at 4:46 p.m. The older I grew, the more I learned and appreciated his accomplishments and understood his downfalls. I thought I could take five weeks off and work something out with my professors when I came back. I exuberated naivet‚.

Another semester down the drain and a new environment that I hadn’t grown accustomed yet accompanied the realization that I was 22 and haven’t graduated. The questions at home went from “How’s school?” to “When are you graduating?” And then the anxiety started to build, seeing all my closest friends go to law school, grad-school, the workforce, getting married and going to Iraq.

I once had tenacity that flowed like a river, but through the course of events it had been gradually damned up. I broke up with my next girlfriend because her articulate patience was wearing thin and I was in no condition to be a man for someone else when I couldn’t be a man for myself. I worked over winter break and made enough money to get people Christmas gifts and looked forward to coming back to school.

Since my attendance the previous semesters was, to say the least, poor, I was unable to re-up in the Army ROTC program, that paid my tuition which forced me to take out loans, a concept I was far too uncomfortable with but I deemed it necessary to get back on track (the fight to get a qualified cosigner is a column in and of itself.)

So now, here I am. I was a columnist for SIUC’s student-run newspaper and now I’m here writing for The Daily Illini. It’s what I love to do. I feel my story isn’t fairly unique as far as overcoming obstacles in college are concerned, but I think its important for those who are fighting everyday inside themselves to get through something as minute as a lecture, that they are not alone.

For some, school is fun and light. The parents write checks while their kids mismanage their opulence. I was one of those kids until I got peppered in the face with the Dick Cheney shotgun of reality and decided not to take anything else for granted.

Whatever it is, no matter the size of our problems, we are all here to become better people. I now understand that I am solely responsible for my own actions, not what happens to me. The most important things I learned in college didn’t come to me in a lecture hall, they came standing in the financial aid line.

One Love.