Saturday, May 26, 2012


Six feet, three inches in height; one hundred sixty-five pounds.  Fifteen hundred miles from home, one tin suitcase and the clothes on his back.  Don't recall the exact contents of the billfold, but other than a driver's license and a picture of Mary, I am sure it contained very little in terms of negotiable tender.

He had completed high school and three months of summer work, enough to convince him that evading college would be unwise.  He had not made contact with the college of his choice, which is to say he not only had not been admitted, the school had no idea he existed.  The lad showed up at the registrar's office where he learned that admission might be possible, but it would be dependent upon a battery of tests, the sitting for which would begin promptly at eight o'clock the following morning.

 Basically, apart from a personality inventory of the sort that everyone is subjected to from time to time during his lifetime, the tests consisted of the ACT battery.  I will not tell you that he aced these tests, but the scores were quite respectable, and within the week the boy was a college freshman!

To determine your track, said the Registrar, what do you hope to major in?  The youngster had heard of Plato and Kant, and he had read some of Schopenhauer.  Philosophy, he said.  I am majoring in philosophy.

The course of one's life, amazingly, is often determined by choices no more thought-through than this.  Split-second determinations, perhaps occasionally a moment's hesitation, and the die is cast.
The off-campus basement apartment, cost-shared, the shopping at Pike Place Market, scrimping on nickels and dimes, a kindly bursar who was willing to "bet on the come," a twenty-eight hour per week construction job, and the youngster was set to pursue his first sixteen quarter-hours of college credit.

Parents of today's teens, or the teens themselves, will have found this tale so far to be incredible, perhaps even to the point that they doubt the possibility.  Yet it is true.  They may find even more incredible the fact that the tuition for a full load was $600 per quarter, that is eighteen hundred dollars a year.  (I am listening as I write this to a report that student-loan indebtedness now exceeds one trillion dollars.)  When he completed the B.A. degree, the young scholar still owed the school just under six hundred dollars, or one quarter's tuition.  The school had their money within the year.

Small wonder that we ruminate about "the good old days."

Now I need to figure out why I am writing this. 


Jim said...

I'd say you wrote it to evoke similar memories from your audience.

In my day, sonny, you couldn't just show up at the college of your choice in September and expect anything, for all you would get is diddly squat.

I took the SATs twice more than a year before I'd need to show up in Terre Haute and take my assigned dorm room. I wound up $12,000 in debt from the experience, but at that time my school ran a neck-and-neck race for Most Expensive School in Indiana with Notre Dame and there was no way my blue-collar dad was footing the entire bill. Fortunately, initial employment afforded me the loan payment, plus rent and a car payment. So I was doing all right.

vanilla said...

Jim, I believe that is so, and it worked. I am well aware that things are much different (and have been for a long time) than they were in the dark ages.

You, Sir, attended Indiana's premier college and did yourself proud. Oh, let's name it. My wife has two grandchildren who are graduates of Rose-Hulman.

Thank you for playing along!

Anonymous said...

That's an amazing story - couldn't happen today. Just show up? When I started college there was no tuition at any of the city colleges - just a registration fee but there were requirements - grade average, SAT scores. 15 years later, when I went back to college to finish my degree, tuition was a factor but open enrollment was also a factor so I went to a private university, worked all day, went to school at night, paid for it all myself and my last 2 semesters were charged to my credit card.

Was it worth it? Only in so far as I finished, at 36, what I started at 18. And yes, book learning expanded my knowledge base but life expanded it even more in a more practical manner.

Shelly said...

Wow- and in this day when one college textbook can cost more than what a small tv used to cost, this story really does make me wish we still had more of the elements of the good old days present in these days.

Chuck said...

One of my high-school teachers, he was also a neighbor and later became a friend, loved to relate a story. During his senior year in high school, he and a friend played hookey one day. They used the day to take the state teacher exam. By the time he graduated, he had a teaching certificate. Couldn't happen today, but it did then.

vanilla said...

Grace, I love your story. That you finished what you started nearly two decades earlier is a credit to your determination. Your last sentence really summarizes the value of a college education and its relationship to living.

Shelly, things aren't what they used to be; and perhaps they never were? Textbooks were an issue for me, though one rarely cost more than twenty dollars, one still had to have the things.

Chuck, my grandmother started teaching school immediately after finishing high school, but that was in 1898. I have a friend, a contemporary with whom I taught for several years, who was licensed and teaching high school at the age of nineteen. But he had a degree which he started working on at sixteen. He had students as old as he was.

Sharkbytes said...

And what college would that be?

vanilla said...

Sharkey, Seattle Pacific.