Sunday, December 9, 2012

A Short Autobiography, by Dustin Finney

Today, while (finally) sorting through some of Dustin's things, I found this math assignment he completed (a journal entry), dated 1/4/11:

              "I can still remember my first day of kindergarten and particularly the smell of the hallways which I sometimes yet encounter vivid recollection in older public school buildings. Most of these memories are fond: arts and crafts, puzzles, duck-duck-goose, and half days. Some, however, are unpleasant. An instance when I was caught attempting to purloin construction paper for home-use was my first lesson about stealing. Oddly, I still haven't forgotten my resentment about younger kids having to sit on the hard gym floor for assemblies while the 6th graders sat in chairs. 
               "It’s probably fair to say I was a child of average achievement during my elementary years. I had an early interest in art that tapered off somewhat as I approached middle school, though I still to some degree entertain a notion of returning to it eventually. Exciting as well was observing scientific experiments and natural phenomena: a solar eclipse, the ability of a lens both to magnify and to ignite, the movements of microscopic organisms. To English, it seems, I was innately adapted. I have always possessed a proclivity for language that comes to me partially from my mother, and I was an early and prolific story-writer. Unfortunately, the pursuit of these interests and talents was not free of impediments and my educational career was bound to experience continual setbacks.
               "The second grade was a particularly challenging year in that I was almost daily getting in fights on the playground and in one instance with one of the student crossing-guards after school. This aggression on my part was rather anomalous in comparison to the relative passivity that followed and preceded it, and was often provoked by other kids’ teasing of my unusual hair and clothing (I fancied myself a young rocker and wore long hair and an earring – itself a provocation, perhaps).

               "Thereafter, my academic performance remained steadily average, leveling off until the sixth grade when it began a precipitous decline. I had always been an avid reader and in some sense, this was my undoing because I read many books from which I sometimes drew conclusions without the maturity of the audience for which they were intended. One of these conclusions and what I consider to be my earliest conscious political stance (since renounced), was that the institution of public education was evil: an insidious effort to break the spirit of youth and cram it into a lifeless, conformist mold. If security cameras and identification cards meant order and security to some, to me they were Orwellian prophecies-come-true that called for the opposition of all courageous 13-year-olds.
               "And so began my rebellion. While I was loathe to utterly disregard my mother’s insistence that I attend school, I made a conscious effort not to legitimize the institution by participating where not absolutely necessary to avoid oppressive, parental measures. The downward-spiral terminated in my dropping out of high school as a sophomore after two expulsions in as many years for repeated instances of behavioral misconduct and truancy. Two years later I would obtain my GED as a condition of juvenile probation for petty crimes.

                "That was then – this is now. The hindsight afforded to me 12 years later has me regretting that I hadn’t reconsidered my intransigence toward school. With over a decade of dead-end jobs behind me and nothing to show for it but physical survival, the true importance of a quality education is startlingly clear. Although the eventual price of college loans is a source of some anxiety, I have resolved that the return on this investment is well worth the cost and that the potential hardship of paying off debt without graduating is far more severe than the diligent effort necessary to ensure that I do. Success will demand that I correct some bad habits with regard to procrastination and management of time, but already in my first week of class, I have begun to address these issues by prioritizing study and completing homework early.
               "And so it is with optimism and enthusiasm that I embark on my second foray into academia, steadfastly determined to perform with a commitment to excellence that will assuage my guilt for previous failings. Necessary for success in this endeavor is a thorough mastery of advanced mathematics, as I am working toward a degree in environmental science. In fact, each term henceforth during my two years at PCC, I will be taking at least 14 credits worth of math and science: chemistry, biology, economics. During my final term, I will take both Calculus II and Statistics II and transfer to a university at the 252-level.
               "It must be confessed from the outset that math has never been a subject in which I have shown particular strength and my current understanding reflects a truncated high school education. I can recall the satisfaction of solving problems and mastering new techniques as a younger student, but at some point after learning basic arithmetic, the problems and puzzles became too abstract for me to conceive of an application for them, and I ceased to apply myself to their solution, thinking it a waste of time.
               "With age, I have come to realize the universal utility of mathematics. It seems that to every problem there is a solution to be found in the appropriate comparison of numbers. I previously mentioned my interest in earth sciences and here, especially, there is some hazy conception that the complicated interaction of chemical elements, biological organisms and geological processes that have made the earth hospitable to life can be summarized as a series of algebraic and geometric formulae corresponding to the varied landscapes and diverse ecosystems adorning our wondrous planet. Sophisticated measurements and calculation are used to develop life-saving medicines. Cutting-edge technologies owe their existence to the proper application of mathematical principles. In short, there are few if any undertakings for which the chances of success are not significantly increased by a working knowledge of math.
               "Although I now possess a true appreciation lacking in my youth, the world of mathematics is yet blurry and indistinct; its principles, strange and unfamiliar. I am fully confident, however, that through the instruction in basic math principles and techniques offered by this course, I will proceed with a firm foundation on which to build in my pursuit of mathematical literacy and proficiency in preparation for a career in which I can put these skills to use for the public good."

"I admire your determination to succeed at a very worthy goal, Dustin.
Keep working hard, asking questions & for help when you need it, and you will go far."
Dr. Susan Stein, Instructor


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  2. I love that you found your son's journal entry and shared it. It is very inspiring and truly exhibits his intelligence and strength in character. I find his honesty with himself, and his drive towards a better future very inspirational for everyone who is struggling inwardly to find themselves and a purpose or goal to achieve. It's so profoundly all here in just one journal entry: His earlier prohibitions, onto an unknown wondering and self-searching period, to his intellectual reasoning and summarization that lead to seeking a well-thought out plan and goal. A very inspiring young man, Kristi, I know of whom you are so proud and make the rest of us proud too!

  3. ...I am glad, as, I am sure, are you , that you made the decision to go through his belongings at this time. It was needed not only for general purpose and healing, but also to foster a new fire in you... I know that you have dreaded the thought of finally sorting and organizing his personal remnants and yes I know it was very difficult,but what a gem of inspiration you have found here in his own words! ...... His strong presence remains within and around you, and through you in your words for us all ... can you feel it?

  4. Wow...How beautifully he wrote! Obviously a dominant right-brainer whose artistic qualities were evident, I so understand his struggles with mathematics. This is a treasure for you, Kristi! Never let it go....and thank-you so much for sharing it!!

  5. Such a loss. He was a shining light. I was with him behind that Citizens United banner- at his invitation. Dustin was quick to get people involved. Do you have other photos of that day?