At the beginning of my senior year of high school, my English teacher arranged a trip to Duke University for some students who were still “undecided” about where they wanted to attend college. I was pretty set on attending William and Mary in Williamsburg, VA but I went along anyway. I should mention that a few days before the trip while taking pictures for yearbook, I had been covering myself in the beautiful fall leaves at the edge of the woods near our school. How I spent two years in Girl Scouts and didn’t learn that poison ivy leaves change color in the fall, I’ll never know but by the time of the trip I was covered in red itchy welts – some wrapped in gauze because they were so disgusting. I was sort of a cross between the worst case of untreated teenage acne you can imagine and a mummy when I toured the campus of Duke University in the fall of 1973.
When the orientation speaker said that the cost of attending Duke should not deter anyone from applying, my ears perked up. The school was committed, through a series of loans, grants and work-study opportunities, to make sure that anyone who met the admissions requirements could attend. Well maybe I could go to Duke after all.
I remember being very excited about this possibility. Duke became my #1 choice for college. To give you an idea of my mindset, most of my friends were applying to University of VA in Charlottesville, which is a very good school in a beautiful setting. Talk about history – Thomas Jefferson built some of the buildings that are still standing. You can visit the room that Edgar Allen Poe lived in for his one semester there. I would have had in-state tuition – and I had absolutely NO desire to go there. I felt like it would be another year of high school. I didn’t want to go somewhere that a lot of people I knew were going. I wanted a new experience.
I felt strongly enough about Duke that I applied for “early decision,” which meant that if I was admitted I would attend. It also had the advantage of finding out in December if I was admitted and if I wasn’t, I would still be considered for regular admission and I would have time to apply to other schools.
I’ve learned from my children’s experience with the college admission process that it can be nerve-wracking. I don’t remember feeling that way when I applied to college in 1973. Since I had been planning on going to William and Mary for so many years, I wasn’t going to be disappointed if I didn’t get into Duke. Perhaps, as people often say, the standards were not as high back then as they are now. Whatever the reason, I gladly accepted my spot in the entering freshman class of 1974 at Duke University.
I competed for a Youth Bowling Association Scholarship – which would have been a bit of extra money to defray the cost of college. Only one high school senior boy and one high school senior girl advanced from each state to compete at the national level. I spent extra time practicing, bowling almost every day with a special coach. I advanced from the city level to the state level and then to the national tournament in Cincinnati OH. The competition was based on test scores, an essay, recommendations and of course, bowling.
I was in pretty good shape heading into the bowling competition where I bowled three of my worst games ever. The harder I tried (feeling like I really needed to win) the worse I did. I didn’t come close to winning the scholarship and that was pretty much the end of my bowling days.
Duke University is in Durham NC, which was about 175 miles from my home in Richmond VA. When I went home for holidays, I traveled by Greyhound bus. I mention that now because I am sure it will seem very strange to my children who have always gone everywhere by car. I don’t remember ever having a car at college and for that matter, neither of my children did either. But travel by bus is just not what it used to be. Oh how I wish our country had the kind of train system that exists in Europe. But I actually met some interesting people traveling by bus from Durham to Richmond.
So I began Duke University in the fall of 1974 without much thought about it being any harder than school had ever been for me. It didn’t take long for me to realize that I was no longer one of the smartest people in my class. It also didn’t take long for me to realize that the next four years were not going to be easy. And except for feeling very close to my randomly assigned roommate from Pennsylvania, Mindy, who I got along with and lived with for the next four years, it didn’t take long for me to feel out of place and quite inferior.
So my adjective for my first year of college – insecure.