The time a “C” student changed the Constitution

If not for a barely-passing grade given to a 19-year-old student at the University of Texas in Austin, the 27th Amendment to the Constitution — it regulates congressional pay raises, but you knew that — might never have been ratified.

KUT Radio reports on Gregory Watson, who was so unhappy with the “C” he received from teacher Sharon Waite, that he started working to advance the subject of his paper: The proposed 27th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that hadn’t garnered enough states’ approval to be added.

Waite didn’t think the paper was anything special.

“So I thought right then and there, ‘I’m going to get that thing ratified,’” Watson tells KUT.

He started a letter-writing and lobbying campaign to get the 200-year-old amendment proposal passed.

Colorado passed the amendment in 1984. Five states ratified it in 1985. Three more in 1986, 1987 and 1988. Seven states in 1989. And Michigan pushed it over the top in 1992.

“I did treat myself to a nice dinner at an expensive restaurant,” Gregory says.

Waite moved to south Texas and couldn’t get a teaching job and — as KUT tells it — was feeling that all the work she’d put into being a teacher was for nothing. Then she got a phone call from a person writing a book about the Constitution.

“They said, ‘Well did you teach at UT Austin in the early ‘80s?’ and I said, ‘Yes I did,’” Sharon says. “And then they asked, ‘Did you know that one of your students, Gregory Watson, pursued getting this constitutional amendment passed because you gave him a bad grade?’”

Sharon was blown away. And in that moment, she felt redeemed.

“Many people have said you never know what kind of effect you’re going to have on other people and on the world. And now I’m in my 70s, I’ve come to believe that’s very, very true. And this is when it really hit me because I thought to myself, ‘You have, just by making this fellow a grade he didn’t like, affected the U.S. Constitution more than any of your fellow professors ever thought about it and how ironic is that?’”

Now, about that grade.

“Goodness, he certainly proved he knew how to work the Constitution and what it meant and how to be politically active,” she told the station. “So, yes, I think he deserves an A after that effort — A+!”

Last month, Waite signed the form to officially change the grade to an “A”.

Related: Know your U.S. Constitution? More states look to teach it (MPR News)

  • jon

    My civics teacher in elementary school had a heck of a time explaining #27… probably because he only had a few years behind him of teaching it… unlike the others where he had been teaching them for decades by that point.