A lesson from Mr. Choquette

Our lives and the Y principle

Our lives are often the result of all the Ys we find in the road of life. Illustration by Leo Wilenius.

Our lives are often the result of all the Ys we find in the road of life. Illustration by Leo Wilenius.

Vernon Choquette was a Cook High School English teacher with the build of a brick wall and a gaze as imposing. It’s fair to say he looked to be a man who would crush rocks with his bare hands for entertainment. In fact, Mr. Choquette was a thoughtful man and as inspiring of a teacher as the school had and it had many.

One book discussion he had with our class was on the premise that life is a random path with many Ys in the road. And no matter how much we think we’re in control, we simply can’t predict all the outcomes of our choices at these crossroads, large or small. That’s deep material for a kid usually more interested in a girl across the room. Here’s an example of his Y principle:

Sue, a college English major, accepts an invitation to her roommate’s home in Singapore at spring break. She loves the culture and agrees to write some ads for her hosts’ growing family business. They hire her full time, and three years later she’s the marketing director for the largest potato chip factory in Singapore.

We go back to the invitation, only this time Sue declines the invitation in order to stay home and study. At the library she meets a student from Iowa who tells her about job openings back home. Three years later, she is married, with child, teaching English and coaching softball at Ames Junior High. Two very different life paths developed from one yes-or-no question—the proverbial Y in the road.

After graduating from high school, I was undecided about careers. A shortlist included forestry, teaching English or history, and electrical-related trades. All I needed to do was work out the pros and cons. Well, that didn’t happen, and as the start of the fall school year approached, my father, who was efficient with words, did not quiz or coach me, but instead, he said firmly, “You need to make a decision.” So, with consideration rivaling that of a flip of a coin, I made a decision and got started on the first of many Ys in my life.

If I could do it over, there would certainly be more preparation for some of those choices, but it’s good to remember also that we are not completely self-made men and women. Sometimes we’re lucky. Lucky for having good teachers and mentors, lucky that we guessed well at a crossroad or lucky for being born in the U.S. Rarely do we or can we appreciate just how fortunate we are as we go through life.

The caption under my graduation picture speaks to that time. Inspired by Mr. Choquette and delivered in real life by my father, it reads, “I don’t know where I’m going, but I’m on my way.” I adopted the mantra as my own and today, it may do little more than get me off the couch. What will happen then is yet to be determined, but if I’ve learned anything it’s that action always beats good intentions.

This story doesn’t need a moral to close, but if it were to have one, I think Mr. Choquette would prefer: “Decide, get going, repeat. Fortune tellers are overrated.”

Leo Wilenius lives in rural Cook, MN, with his wife Lindy. He is retired from Lake Country Power in Mt. Iron.

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