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May 8, 2014

From ‘big fat D’ to college degree

English grad finds humility, hope at Dalton State

Paul Barry’s family has always had a love for education, he said.

His mom teaches English at Dalton High School. His father teachers math in Whitfield County Schools. And Barry hopes to follow those examples.

But Barry’s family wasn’t always his family. He’s adopted. And he didn’t always want to be much of anything, he said.

“I remember, when my biological parents were divorcing, they were fighting over custody of my siblings and I. I found out that they were kind of duking it out to see who wouldn’t have to pay child support,” he said. “I felt like a commodity. When I found that out, I was just thinking, ‘Oh my god. What am I even doing here? I didn’t ask to be born. I didn’t sign up for this.’ And that was a really frustrating time for me.”

Barry, who graduates cum laude from Dalton State College tonight at the trade center, isn’t “burned out” on life anymore, he said. But the bachelor’s degree in English and secondary certificate to teach, along with the hope of a bright future that both offer, aren’t things he got by himself. He wouldn’t be graduating, he said, if it hadn’t been for encouragement from his adoptive parents and Dalton State professors.

“I was depressed, I was angry, and I really didn’t have any interest in school,” he said. “And when I was taken out of that bad situation, I started moving forward and started making something of my life. ... I mean, it’s a huge feeling. When I think back to my time in high school, it was so challenging. I was kind of giving up.”

Barry said his high school transcript is “not anything anyone would call stellar” and that he felt no control of his destiny.


“I’ve got the college degree,” he said. “And I’m realizing how open the world is. There are things beyond the hands you’re dealt at the beginning of life. Everyone gets a tough hand once in a while, but you can change things. And Dalton State was a mechanism by which I could do that.”

Barry admits, even in college, he wasn’t always focused on grades. In his freshmen year, he often skipped classes or fell asleep in them. When he was trying to get a business certificate (which he eventually received) he “failed hard” in an accounting program.

“It took me some time to finally take college seriously,” he said. “It took time and it took practice. But for the past three years, I’ve gotten scholarships from the Dalton State Foundation. I’m leaving with a 3.52 grade point average. And I got the award for literary excellence in 2010.”

The biggest turning point for Barry came in the form of a D, a grade from Associate Professor of English Keith Perry.

“I’ll never forget this,” Barry said. “The first paper I wrote for him, I was positive it was literary gold, that it was academic genius. I got it back with a big paragraph on the back. And a big fat D.”

So Barry met Perry to discuss the paper, he said, and the two had a long talk.

“It was very personal,” he said. “Writing by its very nature is personal. That’s why I felt so insulted by that D. But he walked me through it and said I could do better. He demanded I do better. He forced me to be a better writer. At that moment, it kind of switched on for me.”

On the next paper, Barry got a C. Then later, he got a B. And when he got his first A from Perry, he felt like he had been “sainted.”

“I’m proud to call Dr. Perry my friend,” he said, adding that the two got close when moving the Roadrunner — the college paper — online.

“I built that from the ground up,” he said. “We would order Mr. T’s Pizza and get to work and spend the evening working on it together.”

Perry wasn’t the only professor who had a “huge impact” on Barry.

“But if I listed them all it would cover the whole page of this story,” he said.

The takeaway, Barry added, is that Dalton State offered him a chance to be more than a “number,” perhaps unlike many larger colleges in the state where class sizes make it hard for professors to have one-on-one relationships with their students.

The other big takeaway for Barry? He will leave Dalton State with a student debt loud of zero because of lower than average tuition costs.

And while he leaves Dalton State today as a student, he says he could see himself returning one day to teach.

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