Learning How to Write

Paul Atwood

Alumni, Staff


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I first enrolled at UMass Boston in the spring of 1968 after discharge from military service. To be honest my prime motivation was the check I would receive from the Veterans’ Administration for G.I. benefits. I had no interest in attending classes.

When first observing the rented building at 100 Arlington Street, I thought I might well get a diploma from the Boston Gas Company, which had originally constructed the building as its headquarters.

My freshman English professor was Mary Anne Ferguson. My first thoughts were “What is this old- fashioned schoolmarm going to teach me.” Well, the first thing she did teach me was that I didn’t know how to write. She insisted that sloppy writing equaled sloppy thinking. She added that I might possibly learn but that was up to me. She was withering in her criticism but for some reason I began to pay attention to her advice. If I know how to write today it is because she was able to motivate me. As it turned out in a class of about 25-30 students, seven of us were vets. Professor Ferguson told us we reminded her of Ohio State University after World War II when so many G.I.s enrolled there. Professors appreciated having mature students for a change. I wasn’t so sure about my own maturity but my fellow vets were slightly older and they seemed mature so I took my cue from them.

My first semester was to be my last for a while. Home was not so safe and sound after all. On September 6, 1968 I got shot on Huntington Avenue in front of Northeastern University. I was lucky though. All I got was a shattered leg. Two other people were killed. I had made it through the Marine Corps with only a concussion and cracked rib only to get shot at home by a crazed fellow American! This is a story worth telling.