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?”
“Yes.”
“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: https://www.janetmchenry.com.

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.

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