Guest Columnist

Shakespeare, patience and rewards

Carroll McKibbin is a native Iowan who now lives in San Luis Obispo, Calif., as a retired Cal Poly dean.
Carroll McKibbin is a native Iowan who now lives in San Luis Obispo, Calif., as a retired Cal Poly dean.

I dreaded the task as a high school senior of memorizing dialogue from Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar.” I struggled in Mrs. Milligan’s literature class with the likes of Calpurnia, Brutus, and Caesar while being force-fed the words, acts, scenes, and lines of our teacher’s favorite quotations.

The purpose of such requirements baffled a sixteen-year-old boy. Taking a reprieve from such arduous homework, I sighed and turned toward my mother. “Why do I have to learn all this Shakespeare stuff by heart,” I complained.

“Patience is its own reward,” Mom replied, sounding like Mrs. Milligan with her ready proverb. “If you want to be on the honor roll, you better do what your teacher asks.”

I did want to be on the honor roll, but couldn’t make much sense out of learning the words of a dead Roman dictator. But I trusted Mom. Her words of wisdom, such as “count your blessings,” remain with me to this day.

I returned to my Shakespeare labors with Mom’s adage, “Patience is its own reward,” ringing in my ears.

Mom’s wise axiom remained in my memory as I entered Drake University as a bumbling freshman seeking some form of identity in a sea of strangers. In my new setting, no one knew I had been a class president at Guthrie Center High School and scored a few touchdowns. No one cared. My ego deflated to insignificance.

Professor Frances Leaver’s English class didn’t help. The silver-haired, gentle lady tossed quotation after quotation at her bewildered students struggling to make the transition from high school to college. Assignments were given with a quotation. Questions were answered with a quotation. Indeed, Professor Leaver seemed to be “Bartlett’s Quotations” personified long before I knew of that reference book. On a day when Professor Leaver was writing a lengthy assignment on the blackboard the class responded with a unanimous groan. She turned our way and said, “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings.”

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Once again the class was dazzled by the all-knowing professor. A hushed pause followed. And then Professor Leaver smiled and asked, “Does anyone know the source of that quotation?”

I raised my hand and responded, “That would be William Shakespeare’s ‘Julius Caesar,’ Act 1, Scene 2, Lines 135 to 141.”

Professor Leaver’s jaw dropped. The entire class of some 30 students turned my direction with wonder in their eyes. I beamed with satisfaction.

After my display of knowledge on Shakespeare, albeit very limited, I became something of a favored student to Professor Leaver and somewhat admired by classmates. My reward had arrived. I never let on being as dumbfounded as the rest of the class with the words of the great author.

Mom was right. Patience does have a reward.

Carroll McKibbin is a native Iowan who lives in San Luis Obispo, Calif., as a retired Cal Poly dean. He has written two books: “Apron Strings,” a humorous memoir of an Iowa upbringing, and “Lillian’s Legacy,” the true story of a supposedly unsolved murder in a small Iowa town. Comments: cmckibbi@calpoly.edu

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