“Beginnings are elusive things. Just when you think you have hold of one you look back and see another, earlier beginning, and an earlier one before that. Even if you start with ‘Chapter One: I am Born’ you still have the problem of antecedents, of cause and effect.” Hillary Jordan
It was the second worst interview of my entire career. This means it was worse than the time I melted a hole the size of my palm in the skirt I had planned to wear on the first day of my out-of-town interview. However, it was still better than the time when, among other problems, a search committee member told me that not only was my answer to his question wrong, but he had the data to prove it. That second-worst interview also happened to be my very first job interview and while I didn’t know much about interviewing at that time, I did walk away knowing that I wasn’t going to get that job.
It was the first semester of my sophomore year at the University of Oklahoma and I was applying for the position of RA (Resident Advisor at OU, Resident Assistant in most other places I know of). I was in the second round of the interview process, which meant I was interviewing with the Assistant Director of Housing. I assume she looked at me when I walked into her office, though I don’t remember that she did. I do know that once we sat down, she never looked up from her desk. Literally. Not once. She asked her questions looking at the desk and when I answered she wrote something down on the paper in the middle of her desk. Then she would direct another question toward the desktop. It was a miserable experience. More than thirty years later, I clearly remember sitting on that couch, which seemed to make me even shorter than I am, feeling this opportunity drain away. It was not fun to find a rejection letter in my mail box a few weeks later, but it was no surprise. My first effort to step into my college experience was over.
Going to college was never a question in my mind. I grew up in a home filled with books, the daughter of educated parents. I was a good though not spectacular student in my San Antonio high school. Not quite a nerd, I was definitely a bookworm, always carrying a book to read when there was time between classes. College was a given with few, if any, conversations about where I might go.
Thinking about college and preparing for college was so very different from what it is now. I knew I would go to college which meant I took the few courses considered to be college prep courses when I had a chance. I took Senior English, Algebra 2 and studied languages because I found them interesting. I was involved in high school drama and a couple of student groups, but there was no planning involved. I didn’t make any of these choices with an eye toward my college application. I took the PSAT (Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test) because one did it to be eligible for scholarships. There were no practice tests or plans to retake tests for better scores. When it was time, I took the SAT and ACT and that was that. I did well enough on the PSAT that my scores were sent to the two schools I had listed: the University of Oklahoma (OU) and Stanford University. I picked OU because it was familiar; both of my parents are OU grads as are a couple of uncles. I spent time on the OU campus as a kid because my grandmother had season football tickets. All I really remember of those visits was how cold it could get in the high corner seats of Memorial Stadium when the sun went behind the press box. (That memory is in stark contrast to my student experience of broiling in the sun through September and much of October!) I have no idea why I listed Stanford, but I had to pick something and it seemed like it was a good school. There was no round of college visits, no filling out multiple applications; there was no concept of ‘safety schools’. (Turns out that term did exist by 1974. The Oxford English Dictionary attributes the first use in 1963 to Hillel Black in his book on educational tests and measurements, They Shall Not Pass. I’m pretty sure no one I knew was reading that.)
After receiving my scores, the University of Oklahoma sent me a welcoming letter, offered me a small scholarship, membership in an honors program and the option to live in honors housing. A couple of months afterward, Stanford sent me a letter that I wish I could quote, but as best I can remember it said something like, ‘we used to assume that people who sent us their scores would contact us, but we’ve found that’s not always true so we’re sending you this letter.’ There must have been something else in the packet, an application perhaps, but all I remember is the odd letter. In contrast, it felt like OU wanted me to come and it felt good to be wanted. (I understand now that the difference in the admissions requirements and selectivity of these two schools explained these varied responses.) Plus, as added attractions, I was going a reasonable distance from home and both of my grandmothers lived in Oklahoma within driving distance. That sounded like a good combination. And with no more thought than that, the decision was made. I would go to the University of Oklahoma in Norman, Oklahoma.
Hillary Jordan is right. There is no way to truly start at the beginning. But, for all that came before, and of course, there is so much more than this brief introduction, this will have to serve as the beginning of this particular story. It starts in August of 1975, as my mother and I drove from San Antonio, Texas to Norman Oklahoma to move me onto the west side of the 9th floor (9W) of Walker Tower on the campus of the University of Oklahoma. I was going to be a college freshman.