June 30, 2003

College: I did it my way

Jay Solo read Rachel Lucas "bitch, moan, complain and whine through nine straight paragraphs" about the difficulties of working and going to college and was compelled to tell his story.

Having read both of their stories, I decided I would tell my story:

The year is 1973. The Viet Nam War is just winding down and so is the High School career of your favorite blogger. Having maintained an "A" average all though the first 12 grades, having only gotten less than an "A" in one class, typing, it was expected that yours truly would be the first in his lineage to attend at an institution of higher learning. I graduated 5th in a class of 42. As no one had previously attended college in my family, no one knew what was involved in actually getting into college except that it took money.* As luck, call it bad in this instance, would have it, my father got laid off from the company he had worked for since before I was born. It had something to do with the owner of the business dying and his widow selling off to the highest bidder, who subsequently drove a thriving business into the ground in less than a year.

Anyway, here it is, about a month before graduation and my dad speaks those immortal words to me: "Son, you know that money I had been putting aside for your college education? Well, sorry, but I am going to have to use that to pay the mortgage and the bills until I can figure out how to make a living." You have to understand that my dad was making like $3,000.00 a month, which was big bucks in the early 70s.

Actually, my dad was something else altogether anyway. He had started making his own living printing business cards on a press he had bought from money he had made selling eggs at age 10. By 12, he owned a dump truck and was hauling gravel on a state contract. He had always expected me to follow, at least, in his mold of working for what I wanted and not waiting for someone to hand it to me. He assisted me in learning this lesson by allowing me the privilege of buying my own first car, as well as paying for all my gas, the insurance, etc. I worked evenings, every evening, at the golf course for the final year of my high school education. I graduated, kept that job, and got a factory job buffing faucets for another eight hours each day. My dad found a third, part time job for me, which was basically picking up film at three places and dropping it off at the bus depot. I maintained this pace, getting about 3 hours sleep a night, until early August. With the Fall semester to begin soon, I somehow had not amassed enough in the bank to even get myself a better car. I mean, you could not expect a guy to go to college driving the same old 1966 Plymouth Fury III 4-door, with Earl Scheib paint job, that he had been driving in High School, could you?

Well, I caught one of those ads on TV, you know, about the how they needed a Few Good Men, and stuff like that. They were offering college money if you enlisted, and, more importantly, a goodly sized enlistment bonus I could use to get a better car! Well, I won't tell you the long story about how I signed up for the Marines and ended up in the Army, just take it that it involved sex, deceit, and a generous portion of 18-year-old naivety. On August 7, 1973, yours truly entered the Army. After basic training, I used that enlistement bonus to buy me the one and only new car I ever had. It didn't outlast the 36 months of payments without being totalled . . . twice.

I came out of the Army in August 1977 with 48 months of GI Bill entitlements, and had not one idea what I was going to do with it. I did a bit of checking around. I found out just how much my entitlement offered me: roughly about $342 a month. There were three colleges in my home town: Abilene Christian University (Church of Christ), Hardin-Simmons (Baptist) and McMurray (Methodist). Their tuitions were about 10 times what the State college tuition rates were. I decided I had better go to State college. Where? Well, the closest State college to any relatives of mine was in Arlington, Texas, only about 45 minutes from where my great-grandparents lived. I moved in with them for a few months and began to save money. I worked in the oil fields and cooked at Sonic and spent my off-time seeking a job and place to live in Arlington, Texas. You have to remember, I had just spent 4 years in the Army, and was used to being on my own. I was unable to accomplish everything I needed to do to get enrolled by the Fall of '77, but was firmly entrenched in a graveyard shift convenience store job and my own apartment in the Spring of 1978.

I was now ready to go to college. Of course, all I had ever dreamed of was going to college. I had never thought about what I wanted to study. I just thumbed through the college catalogue. For some reason architecture sounded like something I would enjoy. Well, I spent the first two years in college studying architecture and finding I didn't like it. Well, exactly what I did not like was the way a bunch of dunderheaded wanna be architects who couldn't make a living at it so decided to teach graded some of my designs. Leave it to be said that I blew up in a major way during one of the grading juries and left the university.

After spending a semester or two in the world of factory labor, I decided that I also was not cut out for a life of menial manual labor, so re-enrolled** in pursuit of a BA in Political Science. In 1983, I graduated with a B.A. in Political Science with enough hours in both English and Architecture to qualify as minors. And, more amazingly than not, I still had some hours of entitlement left. Enough so that I continued to receive my little check during all but the last semester of law school.***

That little check usually made sure I had tuition and books, but the full-time job as robber bait paid for the rent , beer, cigarettes, and, if I had enough left over, food. My dad and mom did assist me, once, when I needed some major car repairs. Mostly, though, I really did do it my way.

*I have always thought I likely would have qualified for several academic scholarships, but my family really had no idea about where you found them or how you went about applying for such.**** Our little country school didn't have much in the way of counselors either. Of course, they also did not have much in the way of winning football teams or much of anything else.

**This in itself turned out to be a grand adventure. The VA has some kind of policy about making sure you don't repeat this behavior and make you take an aptitude test to assist you in deciding what it is that you are most capable of doing. When I went in for my results, the lady just looked at them and then looked at me very strangely. Squeamishly, I asked her what my results had suggested. She looked at me, smiled, and said, "They tell me that you will likely succeed at anything you choose to do." I, however, am still awaiting that success. It appears that the only thing I have ever really been successful at is making good grades without any real effort.

***It amazes how often I hear about some of the attorneys who have been practicing for years and years and still are paying off the student loans they used to finance their law school education.

****Al Gore had yet to invent the Internet, so information like that was not easily obtainable by doing a Google search on "college scholarships."

Posted by Tiger at June 30, 2003 11:33 PM

Great story, Tiger...both your success, your service, and the impact the GI Bill made. Are you going to tell us what prompted the decision to go to law school...?

Posted by: David at July 1, 2003 08:40 PM

Yes, the Montgomery GI Bill is what got me through college. As far as I'm concerend, I earned that, it was not a hand-out.

Now I wonder if they have scholorships for people who's original college degree means diddly squat, are over 30 and looking to go back.

Any ideas? I don't qualify for anything else really.

Posted by: serenity at July 2, 2003 01:28 AM

I actually think if I had to choose my career all over again, I would likely have gone into teaching.

Posted by: Tiger at July 2, 2003 05:45 AM