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Michael Steele's Academic Misadventure

He hasn't exactly held high office, and he's neither a policy leader nor a brilliant campaigner, but former Maryland lieutenant governor and Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele is a hugely charming storyteller, and in a video to appear this weekend on C-SPAN, Steele keeps an audience of high school students spellbound with the scary yet inspirational tale of the time he was booted out of Johns Hopkins University.

The heroine of Steele's story--as is often the case--is his mother, Maebell Turner, who managed to scare him onto the right course without ever deigning to look at her son or to stop stirring the grits.

Steele told the story to students at Woodson Senior High School in the District, as part of C-SPAN's "Students and Leaders" program, which brings big-name politicians, journalists and others to five D.C. public schools. In seven minutes, Steele spells out how he "partied my behind off. I heard there were classes, and some people told me I really should go. But I was having a good time. I was freshman class president ... I just networked the heck out of that bad boy. I was getting there. I was talking. I was grooving. I was having a ball."

After ignoring his academics for way too long, Steele got a letter at home in the District--he was being expelled. He summoned the courage to tell his mother as she cooked him a breakfast of grits, fried scrapple, bacon and eggs one Saturday morning. "My mother never once looked at me" during the conversation, Steele says.

"Well, baby," she said, "I don't know what you're going to do but come September, you're going to be at Johns Hopkins University."

"My mother never spoke about that issue again," Steele tells the students.

He managed to talk a dean at Hopkins into giving him a second chance--but only if he took four courses at George Washington University that summer and scored A's in all of them. And then Maebell added a requirement of her own: He'd have to achieve those grades while also working full-time, because the school year was for academics and the summer was for making money, which Steele did by working where his mother did, at the Sterling Laundry in Northwest.

Steele has told this story before, in this profile of him in the Hopkins alumni magazine, for instance. But this appears to be the first time the tale has been captured on video, and it is indeed a great story.

It's a story of perseverance, of attitude catching up with aptitude, of a kid learning--before it's too late--that the time for slacking off is over. Steele did get back to Hopkins, did straighten himself out, did finish school. The D.C. school system has always been bigger on inspirational speakers than on enforcing high expectations for its students, and there's no evidence that such stories really change the way kids behave. But it's a fun story nonetheless. The full program airs Monday on C-SPAN at 7 p.m.

By Marc Fisher |  May 22, 2009; 8:10 AM ET  | Category:  Maryland , Politics , Schools
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Please email us to report offensive comments.

Michael Steele is nothing more than a "waterboy" for the GOP...

Posted by: demtse | May 22, 2009 8:41 AM

Well, starch my shorts, a liberal name-caller. I thought such a species didn't exist.

Posted by: capsfan77 | May 22, 2009 9:34 AM

Capsfan... grow up. There is no evidence that demtse isn't a Ron Paul-y

Posted by: bbcrock | May 22, 2009 10:00 AM

Interesting story , but how much of it is true?

Marc, I once heard that Steele never passed the bar exam after law school. Any more info on that ?

Posted by: jmsbh | May 22, 2009 10:05 AM

So the head of the "zero tolerance" Republican Party got ahead on a second chance? Well how about that...

Posted by: geezjan | May 22, 2009 10:23 AM

How can someone graduate from Johns Hopkins and still be as stupid as Steele is?

Posted by: kjohnson3 | May 22, 2009 11:06 AM

i thought johns hopkins was a left hander for the mets.

u mean they named a school after him? for pitchers?

Posted by: californicationdude | May 22, 2009 11:50 AM

Its always great when Steele acts like a decent person and says things normal people can relate to. If they stopped pandering to the "base" all the time maybe the GOP could find a way to grow their party.

Posted by: dcn8ive | May 23, 2009 10:04 PM

jmsbh: Mr. Steele says he took the MD bar exam on a whim and failed, and later passed the bar in PA. It is not unusual for law school graduates to fail bar exams on their first attempts, even when they perpare for them.

Michael Stephen Steele is an active member of the The District of Columbia Bar; he seems to have joined during his brief stint with Dewey & LeBoeuf.

Posted by: MikeLicht | May 25, 2009 8:11 AM

bbcrock: I'm all grown up, sometimes just can't resist commenting on those who aren't.

Posted by: capsfan77 | May 26, 2009 9:57 AM

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