My College Years – 1975 – 1978

Last week I had a creative burst and published a week’s worth of blogs for Years 14-20 of my life. This week I’ve managed to keep up with my Writing 101 assignments but have not posted anything for my “year a day” challenge. We left off after my first year at Duke University and my trip to Europe during the summer of 1975.

In order to have any hope of staying on track (and finishing my life story by the time I turn 60 on October 20th) I’m going to combine a few years. As people have mentioned, I can always go back and flesh it out. I plan to write one post for each of the  following time periods:

1975 – 1978 – College
1978 – 1980 – First job
1980 – 1982 – Second job

Even though I am at a certain stage of my life where I’m comfortable publishing my “Life Story,” I don’t think I would have been able to do so at any time before now. I kept a journal (off and on) but even if there had been blogs back then, I never would have used this forum for those personal experiences. I think it is important that I have some distance from the events I write about. It is difficult to write objectively about things when you’re living them.

Last week my husband, who has been a faithful reader and admits that he is learning things about me that he never knew, realized that I was getting close to the point in my life when I met him (1981). Over the last few weeks as he’s been reading my blog, he never thought about the fact that he’d soon be appearing in my “Life Story.” He figures prominently so you will definitely start hearing about Rick, as well as our two children, Sarah and Will. But for other people are part of my “Life Story,” you’ll probably start seeing more generic phrases such as “my housemates,” “a classmate,” “co-workers” or “Boyfriend #1, #2 etc.” I think that is the best way to preserve anonymity of people who are part of my life but who may not want “their life story” revealed.

So without further ado:

Years 1975 – 1978 –  My Last Three Years of College

I started my second year at Duke in the fall of 1975 and began to reconsider my original goal of a career in international relations or law. I was struggling, not just academically but emotionally – it was hard for me to find my place at Duke. Not fitting in socially wasn’t that unusual for me, but struggling to do well academically was a first. I could no longer fall back on “well, at least I’m smart.” Everyone at Duke was smart – probably smarter than me. Actually, I felt like EVERYONE there was smarter than me – if that gives you an idea of my emotional state at the time.

I went to the Counseling Department at Duke and began getting individual and group therapy. It should come as no surprise if you read about my early years – I needed some help to improve my mental health and emotional well-being. My parents separated at the end of my sophomore year of college and divorced a year later. My mother explained that they had stayed together “for me” but now that I was “old enough,” they could go their separate ways.

In fall 1975, I started a new work-study job in the Play Therapy Department at Duke Hospital. A play therapist’s role is to provide as normal a childhood experience as possible for hospitalized children. Through play, the child can process what is going on with her illness and the endless medical procedures. For the pediatric patient, time in the playroom offers the chance to interact with other kids and to just be a kid. It also allows the play therapist to observe the child’s developmental and emotional needs and share those observations with the rest of the medical team. I worked in the play therapy department at Duke Hospital for the next three years.

I met Boyfriend #1 my sophomore year. We spent a lot of time enjoying outdoor activities; backpacking, trips to the beach, camping in Duke Forest, rock climbing and kayaking. It was a good relationship and it lasted almost a year although we were apart for part of that time. It seemed Boyfriend #1 was more willing to spend time away from me than with me and I didn’t understand why he could so easily extended his summer vacation out West by several weeks when I had been counting the days until he returned. As so often happens in relationships, the timing wasn’t right. I probably wanted more commitment from Boyfriend #1 than he was ready for. I began to wonder if he really was THE one for me.

By the time I started my junior year at Duke, I had switched my major to Psychology but I was still struggling to figure out what I wanted to do with my life.  I wanted to make a difference in the world and I didn’t see how the courses I was taking would help me do that. Little did I know at the time, this questioning and longing for meaning, would be a recurring theme in my life, not just during my 20s, when you would expect a person to be idealistic, but throughout my life.

I made up the semester I missed during the summer of 1977. During my third year at Duke I began my second serious relationship with Boyfriend #2 who was a couple of years older than me and in medical school. Another good relationship for almost two years with a very bad ending. We spent a lot of time together and in that relationship and I made the mistake (although I didn’t recognize it at the time) of defining myself through him.

At some point during the fall of my senior year, we decided that we would get married when I graduated in May of 1978. Boyfriend #2 would have one year of medical school left but I would work while he finished school. Those plans went awry when I met his mother in December 1977.  She wanted us to wait until he graduated from medical school (1979) before we got married. One afternoon when she and I were alone in the house I confirmed what I suspected – she didn’t want us to get married at all. It took me a few days to get up the nerve but I finally confronted her and asked whether she objected to us getting married before he finished medical school or if she objected to us getting married at all.  She launched into all the reasons we weren’t right for each other, which she’d been pointing out to her son when I wasn’t around, and my worst fears were confirmed.

By the way, did I mention that all of this happened while I was visiting Boyfriend #2’s family during Christmas 1977  in Tehran, Iran? Half a world away from anyone I could seek comfort from – it was one of the most emotionally gut-wrenching experiences of my life.  Boyfriend #2 father was a retired career Army officer working for a defense contractor in Tehran. President Jimmy Carter described Iran as “An island of stability in a turbulent corner of the world.”

I graduated Magna Cum Laude with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology in May 1978. I was still seeing Boyfriend #2 but our plans to get married were on hold – indefinitely. I decided to prove my independence and move wherever I could get a job as a play therapist. I sent applications to almost every children’s hospital in the country. There were not a lot of hospitals with play therapy departments and very few openings so I was thrilled when I was hired by the Child Life Department (another name for play therapy) at Baltimore City Hospitals in Baltimore, Maryland.  I moved to Baltimore in August 1978.

My adjective for this period is independent.


3 thoughts on “My College Years – 1975 – 1978

  1. Kalen, I am so happy that I joined Writing 101. Although I did not participate in the end, I discovered your blog, in which you express facing similar problems and challenges like me. You too wondered if it is the right thing to do to bring personal experiences to the forefront, especially when other people are involved. You also talk about the need to have some distance from the past and to have the courage to write about it. I am looking forward to reading your next post.


    1. Peter –
      I am also very glad you joined Writing 101 and appreciate sharing these thoughts and questions with you.
      Even though you haven’t participated in Writing 101, if you look at the assignment for today in the Commons (Day 11) you will see that part of the task is to identify other bloggers to interview. I haven’t completely formulated my thoughts but I would like to interview you and other family history bloggers – “of a certain age.”
      I’ll contact you through your blog or email when I determine exactly what my “interview” will entail. I think it will part of an assignment next week.

      Liked by 1 person

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