The Comeback Kid

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I believe that everyone deserves the occasional mulligan.

Because second chances are rare, if you’re smart, you use that opportunity to your best advantage. That’s what happened with Emmett when he was about 20 years old, and had basically flunked out of West Florida Seminary (what is now Florida State University) in Tallahassee, in the Fall of 1901.

The main WFS building, constructed in 1891; it was then replaced by Westcott Hall in 1909. Source: State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/11572

The main WFS building, constructed in 1891; it was replaced by Westcott Hall in 1909. Source: State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/11572

Tuition at WFS was free, but you had to pay your living expenses, and the fact that it was free learnin’ did not equate to “cheap educational experience” AT ALL. This was one tough school. The curriculum was decidedly not for suckers or folks who wanted to get a college degree as quickly and effortlessly as humanly possible. Students today would balk at the high expectations of student assignments, as well as the behavior requirements expected of undergraduates. Those were the days, my friends.

Emmett’s class at WFS started out with 45 students (the class cohort formed several years earlier, in what we’d call junior high or middle school today). Emmett and his best friend Paul Carter attended Chipley public schools, but were definitely enrolled at WFS for their Freshman year for the 1899-1900 session.

Emmett's in there somewhere! WFS student body, 1901. Source: State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/25064

Emmett’s in there somewhere! WFS student body, 1901. Source: State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/25064

I don’t know what Emmett’s major was at the time, but it wasn’t law. The WFS Law School was discontinued in 1885. However, one could earn a BA in Greek or Latin; a BS in modern languages or physical sciences; or, a BL (Bachelor of Letters) in English, German, or the romance languages. It seems logical that he would have been enrolled in the classical curriculum.

Let’s say he was working on the basic Bachelor of Arts degree, classical studies. Here’s what his Freshman year would have looked like:

I don't know about you, but my Freshman year BA general curriculum was nothing like this.  Source: http://digitalcollections.net.ucf.edu/cdm/ref/collection/CFM/id/91626

Note: Although this was the basic Freshman curriculum from Stetson University (Emmett’s alma mater), it was a model of the typical classical curriculum for a collegiate Freshman in 1901. Source: http://digitalcollections.net.ucf.edu/cdm/ref/collection/CFM/id/91626

At the end of Emmett and Paul’s Sophomore year, only about 12 students were left. In two more years, there would only be four students. WFS had notoriously rigorous placement exams, which were given in September (at the beginning of the academic year). If you didn’t pass (and many didn’t), you were out.

Cephas Love Wilson, 1906. Source: http://www.floridamemory.com/items/show/143975

Cephas Love Wilson, 1906. Source: http://www.floridamemory.com/items/show/143975

Apparently, that’s what happened with Emmett and Paul, because neither were enrolled at WFS according to the October, 1901 records. Additionally, I think it is pretty safe to say that Emmett had a tough time at WFS: Not only did he bomb out on his junior year placement exams, the poor guy was was lampooned in the school yearbook for his less-than-stellar oratory skills. Emmett was soon back home in Marianna in the fall of 1901, working for Cephas at Kehoe & Wilson.

During that year, Emmett regrouped. He saved money, and he found his direction — a law career. If Emmett looked back on this time a few years later, I’m sure he saw that the rough experience at WFS was actually the best thing that could have happened to him.

The one-on-one OJT training with Cephas made a huge difference for Emmett. After a year of apprenticeship with the legal shark, er, Cephas, Emmett tried college again in October, 1902, and this time, was a success. The pressure to do well the second time was there; this time, though, he was better able to handle it. That, plus he hadn’t discovered booze just yet. If he’d have been drinking at Stetson, he’d have been out PDQ. QED.

Emmett at moot court. He's either arguing the case or sitting in as the court reporter. Source: Stetson.edu

Emmett at moot court. He’s either arguing the case or sitting in as the court reporter. Source: Stetson.edu

Emmett was only at Stetson for about 18 months, but in that time, according to my colleagues at Stetson’s archive, he definitely left a positive mark. He was the valedictorian of the law school, he won the university’s top award for oratory (so there, WFS yearbook staff!), he distinguished himself in moot court and served as president of the Kent Club, which was the law school aggregate.

Emmett had a do-over, and he did well with it. Given his success — and the fact that he obviously worked hard and overcame whatever issue it was that held him back academically at WFS — I believe that if he hadn’t been addicted to alcohol and crashed midway through his tenure in Congress, he would have been able to redeem himself and his career, and come back twice as strong — just like he did at Stetson.

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