CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- BACK in the dark ages when I started college, students didn't register for classes by computer.
At Virginia Tech, we were directed to a large gymnasium bordering the fabled drillfield.
We would stand in long, slow lines in front of tables where staff members wrote our names by hand on signup sheets. The goal was to get the classes we needed to tick off the core curriculum requirements.
In my first attempt as a freshman, I scored a shortcut that came with a little embarrassment.
In the hectic days prior, I had suffered a minor stomach ailment, probably a case of the jitters. I dealt with it by not eating.
So standing still in that hot gym, I grew dizzy and crumpled onto the floor.
The crowd parted and people rushed to my aid. Soon I was seated behind the registration tables with a cool drink, and a staff member was rushing to fill my class card. Then they sent me off to the clinic.
The doctor was unperturbed. He explained that fainting was a natural response for someone standing still in a hot gym with an empty stomach.
The next time class registration rolled around, something occurred that didn't require me to become a public spectacle but had an even more fortunate outcome.
The university was bursting at the seams, and too many of us needed introductory social science courses. Someone decided that philosophy, normally viewed as one of the humanities, could be counted as a social science.
Philosophy? Those signup sheets were hardly full.
Remembering the "D" I had made on one of my first writing assignments - to argue a point - I signed up for a beginning logic class.
I had stumbled into what was to become the most valuable aspect of my education. I continued as an English major but developed a fascination for logic, moved on to other philosophy courses and ended up with a minor in that discipline.
I have forgotten much of the Shakespeare, Milton and Chaucer I studied, but I retain the principles of reasoning. That's because I have used them daily in my career as a newspaper writer and editor.
Other fields also require critical thinking. The Law School Admission Test, for example, "is designed to assess reading comprehension, logical and verbal reasoning proficiencies," says Wikipedia.
While I feel lucky to have stumbled into philosophy courses, I realize now that they simply took me further down a path I was already on.