I was accepted into BYU in 1988. Under my father’s direction, I declared myself a business major.
We had discussed a long term plan to get an MBA. A semester later, when I finally made my way to the Marriott School of Management and discussed entrance to the school, they said they weren’t interested in students who graduate with business degrees. ‘We are interested in a diversified student body.’ So, they recommended that I graduate with a different degree.
You see, I struggled in elementary school. Math and science did not agree with me. I did well in history, and the arts, but I couldn’t see myself graduating in those and then having a favorable application to MBA school. English and languages too were an area I grappled with nearly all my life. I didn’t read a book by myself, cover to cover, until I was nearly in the 4th grade. I just wasn’t any good at it, didn’t see any reason to read books, none had caught my interest.
Then my grandmother snagged me. She was one of those grandma’s that gives you a book every year. Since I hated books, I dreaded getting her presents. ‘Oh yes Grandma, thank you. I can’t wait to read it.’ I would tell her, then quickly lose the book in our book shelves and never pick it up again.
In elementary school I was in remedial English classes. My regular class would go over English lessons, and I’d have to go to another classroom to meet with the kids who were having a hard time with reading. I simply hated it. I wasn’t good at it, I was slow, my comprehension was terrible. Testing was a joke.
That is until around my 12th birthday. I was becoming enchanted with all things fantasy, and my Grandma gave me a book about the Salmon of Wisdom. On the cover there was a picture of the woods, a young man, and something about magic. It was enough to catch me and get me to actually sit down and read it cover to cover.
I wish I could remember the title of the book, I’ve searched and have been unsuccessful. The story seems to appear in many Irish, Celtic, and Arthurian legends. The book that caught me though, I’ve sadly not been able to find.
After reading it I quickly became a fan of all things Dungeons and Dragons. Well, really what I enjoyed doing was collecting and painting the little pewter figurines. They came unfinished, and I could paint every nook and cranny on them. I really enjoyed painting and art all through high school. I also started reading the many different Piers Anthony series, like Xanth. And I was hooked. Much of what I read now are audiobooks back and forth to work, running, riding, while doing yard work, etc. I’m still a huge fan of fantasy. I’ve been through the Harry Potter series 3 times. Trying to get my 9 year old to read them with me now 🙂
Once I hit high school I was up to normal reading and testing level with the rest of my class. I was never ahead though, I was swimming hard to just keep pace. It was after high school, in the middle of my Freshman year at BYU when I made the fateful decision to become an English major. I thought, ‘Hey, you can test out of math, and there are no science classes. OK, I like that. Also, there are no fixed right or wrong answers. In math you are either right or wrong, no middle ground. In a paper you can argue your point, and at least end up getting some credit.’ All that added up to me taking a weakness of mine and working on it to where I now consider it a strength.
Reading this, you may think differently, but you have to consider my other character flaws. This is definitely, one of my strengths.
Even today, when I’m asked what someone should study in college I always recommend English. It has helped me to become a much better communicator. I was forced to read hundreds of pages a night, and write pages and pages of papers. In my profession now, where my focus is wealth management, it all comes down to my ability to communicate abstract concepts well.
As I mentioned, I was typically swimming to keep up and this was the norm during my college courses as well. I enjoyed reading, but I’d never even seen huge anthologies before, nor was I ever asked to read 100 pages a night for homework. Then be prepared to test on all 100 pages the next day. It was challenging stuff.
My skills were put to the test when I decided to take a summer Shakespeare class. Yes, it would be a lot to do, but I was only taking one other course over the short semester. I was married, and an even better student after having studied the scriptures for two years straight on a mission to Kentucky. How hard could it be?
I was the type of person that thrived on extra credit. My testing skills were never the best, so I would do every last bit of extra credit to boost my grades. In this class, the one and only extra credit opportunity that was offered was to memorize a lengthy portion of a play. I remember it had to be a minimum amount of lines. I had also heard much of Henry the V’s speech to his men on St. Crispen’s Day. Since it’s length met the requirements, I thought I’d give it a shot.
At the time I was cursed with the procrastination disease, so I left it until two weeks before the due date. I started reading, and reciting, reading and reciting, but with the old English, it came very slowly to me. As with my reading and retention difficulties, memorization was also incredibly difficult.
‘What was I thinking?!’
We were to meet in an open classroom on a Saturday morning. All those who were desirous to participate would show up and deliver their lines.
‘How many would actually show up?’ I thought.
I was up most of the night before, working to commit the final lines to memory. I had divided the lines into 10 parts and was using my fingers as triggers for my memory. I’d thought this a good approach. That is until I arrived and sat through the first few people delivering their lines. Not only was half the class there, they were all incredibly well prepared – some to the point where they could act out the parts and deliver the lines with emotion and the proper accents.
I was doomed.
To this day, I remember the star of the class. She was a know it all that could memorize anything and had the answer to every question. Of course, she choose to memorize the St. Crispen’s day speech as well. And as the lots fell, she was to deliver her rendition immediately after mine – so all could compare and contrast our deliveries.
OH, THE SHAME!!!
The teacher had a camera with him that day and recorded my attempt:
OK, obviously that wasn’t me. But it was pretty good. Unfortunately that young chap only delivered half the lines. He seemed to have forgotten much of it, but you get the gist. He did a far better job than I did.
Here is the actual text, so you can see what I was up against.
ACT IV – SCENE III. The English camp.
Enter GLOUCESTER, BEDFORD, EXETER, ERPINGHAM, with all his host: SALISBURY and WESTMORELAND
Where is the king?
The king himself is rode to view their battle.
Of fighting men they have full three score thousand.
There’s five to one; besides, they all are fresh.
God’s arm strike with us! ’tis a fearful odds.
God be wi’ you, princes all; I’ll to my charge:
If we no more meet till we meet in heaven,
Then, joyfully, my noble Lord of Bedford,
My dear Lord Gloucester, and my good Lord Exeter,
And my kind kinsman, warriors all, adieu!
Farewell, good Salisbury; and good luck go with thee!
Farewell, kind lord; fight valiantly to-day:
And yet I do thee wrong to mind thee of it,
For thou art framed of the firm truth of valour.
He is full of valour as of kindness;
Princely in both.
Enter the KING
O that we now had here
But one ten thousand of those men in England
That do no work to-day!
KING HENRY V
What’s he that wishes so?
My cousin Westmoreland? No, my fair cousin:
If we are mark’d to die, we are enow
To do our country loss; and if to live,
The fewer men, the greater share of honour.
God’s will! I pray thee, wish not one man more.
By Jove, I am not covetous for gold,
Nor care I who doth feed upon my cost;
It yearns me not if men my garments wear;
Such outward things dwell not in my desires:
But if it be a sin to covet honour,
I am the most offending soul alive.
No, faith, my coz, wish not a man from England:
God’s peace! I would not lose so great an honour
As one man more, methinks, would share from me
For the best hope I have. O, do not wish one more!
Rather proclaim it, Westmoreland, through my host,
That he which hath no stomach to this fight,
Let him depart; his passport shall be made
And crowns for convoy put into his purse:
We would not die in that man’s company
That fears his fellowship to die with us.
This day is called the feast of Crispian:
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when the day is named,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say ‘To-morrow is Saint Crispian:’
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars.
And say ‘These wounds I had on Crispin’s day.’
Old men forget: yet all shall be forgot,
But he’ll remember with advantages
What feats he did that day: then shall our names.
Familiar in his mouth as household words
Harry the king, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester,
Be in their flowing cups freshly remember’d.
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remember’d;
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition:
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.
I began and got through my first finger reminders. As they were the lines in the beginning, I’d recited them the most. But then I completely stopped. I looked out over the class and could see in their down cast gaze how uncomfortable they were – which only made me feel more uncomfortable, which only made me forget where I was and what words were to come.
I sputtered, and stopped. Stared at my fingers hoping to remember the next part. I stood there for 3, 5, then 10 seconds reciting in my mind what I knew and then spit out the next two lines as they came to memory. After many fits and starts, incredibly long pauses, and looks of anguish, I finally made it through.
I quickly sat back down to my teacher saying, ‘OK, you made it. Sarah, you’re next.’ She got up and started from the beginning while I sunk lower and lower in my chair. She not only remembered every part, she was able to deliver the lines like a character on a set. It really was a great delivery, even though I hated her for it.
It helped me to once again understand why I chose the section. Why I too agreed that Shakespeare was a genius for penning these lines. For if I’d been there on that fateful day in 1415, I too would have followed Henry the king to war.
Since then I’ve committed it to memory and try to say it once a month to myself.
As I was writing this last night, my son came in while I was watching the Kenneth Branagh version, on YouTube. It’s my favorite. He asked what I was watching, so I explained to him about the battle of Agincort. How the English were led by Henry V, and they were far from home in French territory. Because of the length of the war, the distance from home, and dysentery that was killing the men, the English were emotionally defeated. They were outnumbered 5 to 1 and looked to be destroyed by the French. LINK
That is when Henry the King stood to give this soliloquy.
I then played the video for my son. My heart once again filled with fire as I explained to him what Henry the King was saying to his subjects. How this was one of the greatest examples of a leader building up his troops from the depths of misery to the shouts of triumphant battle.
Nothing will hold us back.
Not weakness in reading, nor testing skills.
Not a summer’s class full of know it alls.
Nothing will hold us back from eventually reaching the reward.
Here’s my favorite rendition: