Mercy me . . . please

I think I first understood the concept of mercy the last week of my high school chemistry class.
From the first day of that class I hated it. The trigger occurred when Mr. Winters said, “Memorize the periodic table of elements.”
My reaction was WHY? It was on a giant chart in front of the classroom. Why would I ever need to know 105 (hey, it was awhile ago) abbreviations for chemical elements if they were all right there on a big chart at the front of the classroom? (Hey, there was no Jeopardy show then.)
I did a mental shutdown. I also did not understand the relevance between the textbook reading and any experiments we did. And I did not like my experiment partner, although for the life of me, I cannot recall a name or face of that person (so sorry, whoever you are).
I began looking for opportunities to skip class. I arranged counseling sessions. I held class officer meetings (I was secretary of the senior class). I made sure I was needed in the office.
The second semester I had no clue what was going on in chemistry class. And I had a sense my grade was in the toilet.
Monday of graduation week I was handed a form to take to my teachers to get my semester grade. I was one of the top 10 students in our class of 406, so I was being considered for valedictorian and salutatorian.
I needed a strategy to get those six grades. I started with P.E.; my teacher loved me, so I knew I’d get an A. I did. (Yes, my favorite class in high school was P.E., not English.)
Then I went to my Russian teacher; I was doing well there, so I had another A. I next went to my two English classes: sci fi and Shakespeare (we had semester-long electives). Two more A’s.
Next was Algebra 2. To be honest, I didn’t have much of a clue with that class either, but when Mr. Schultz saw the list of A’s, he said, “You’ve made my job easy. With these A’s, you must also have an A in my class.” Clearly, he didn’t have a clue either.
I went into my chemistry class and asked Mr. Winters for my semester grade. He looked over his gradebook, then at me, shaking his head. “Did I hear you’re going to UC Davis in the fall?”
“You know you won’t get in with a semester D.”
I gulped. No, I didn’t know that.
“You don’t deserve this but…” Then he wrote something on my form and handed it back to me.
It was a C. The only C I’ve ever gotten on a report card. But it may have been one of the most important life lessons learned.
I eventually realized that mastering material in science and math is critical to brain development. I also discovered that memorization has value for all sorts of life applications.
And most important, I began to get a glimpse of the concept of mercy. When I don’t get the punishment I deserve, that’s mercy. When I get a benefit I’ve not earned, that’s mercy. I got into a four-year university because of the mercy of a high school teacher. And I’m looking forward to eternal life in heaven because of God’s mercy.
May I be as kind, giving, and merciful to others as I live out a posture of #lookingup.
A former educator, Janet McHenry is a speaker and author of 24 books–including the bestselling 50 Life Lessons for Grads. She has a free book, Prayer Helps, that she will send to you if you sign up for her monthly newsletter:

4 Responses to “Mercy me . . . please

  • Lois Johnson
    1 month ago

    Thanks, Janet! Great story. Great insight. Great job drawing me in to signing up for your newsletter. Ha ha.

    • Janet Holm McHenry
      1 month ago

      LOL. It’s called incentivization, Lois. I hope you find it worth the read. I try to make it fun and encouraging.

  • JoAnne Pase
    1 month ago

    I received a mercy grade in chemistry, too. It never made sense, and try as I might, I couldn’t memorize the Periodic Table. It didn’t help that we had 3 different teachers, either. Any scholarships I earned were based on my SAT’s.

    Fifteen years later, a new friend (dental hygienist) confided that she couldn’t grasp chemistry in high school but did very well in college.

    • Janet Holm McHenry
      1 month ago

      I chalk it up to senioritis–and I tried to keep that life incident in mind when I was teaching high school English. Instead of making kids memorize, I asked them to think and to learn.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

You have successfully subscribed to the newsletter

There was an error while trying to send your request. Please try again.

Looking Up! will use the information you provide on this form to be in touch with you and to provide updates and marketing.