He knew his placement in the world

True Tales From Everyday Living

February 11, 2007|By Rob Hiaasen | Rob Hiaasen,Sun Reporter

More than 2.8 million freshmen are expected to enter college this fall. That's the easy part. Until then, however, parents are experiencing:

Stress.

Worry.

Worry, followed by stress.

Stress, followed by worry, then stress, followed by this truth:

If we had to apply to college today, not only would many of us be rejected on a litany of academic counts, we would probably be fined for even applying. In 1981, I graduated from the University of Florida, an esteemed state university (not too shabby in sports, either) but at the time of my admittance, my pulse rate might have been one of my more winning qualifications.

If I had to apply today, let me count the ways I would fail at getting into college - starting with grade school. I did not take geometry in third grade, nor did I take Latin or AP history. If memory serves, I took cursive writing and multiplication involving two-digit numbers - although this may be a boastful exaggeration.

By middle school, I did not take trigonometry or a second year of Latin. I faintly recall foregoing a semester studying abroad in Paris for a semester right back at my middle school where I was required to read Johnny Tremain. I had an exceptional Hot Wheels set-up in my room, so I doubt I would have experienced that in France. I did not take the practice SAT - the PSAT - since I was busy with my Hot Wheels. At an early age, I learned to prioritize.

I did not have a tutor at $80 an hour, but I had a paper route, which I like to think, years later, sealed the deal with the University of Florida.

In ninth grade, I skipped AP calculus so I could take "Earth Science." To my knowledge, it was not an advanced placement course; to my knowledge, it barely was a course. Yet, I learned to appreciate the Pledge of Allegiance on account our science teacher was at Pearl Harbor and if you didn't say the pledge, he would bean you with a chalkboard eraser. He had a good arm. We all became gifted and talented pledge takers.

In 10th grade, I did not take the SAT twice, nor did I avail myself of the opportunity to challenge myself with two SAT II subject exams or the ACT in anticipation of attending college out west. I availed myself of the opportunity to date a girl named Ann. It was an exciting two months - a time when no academic progress was recorded. There was, sadly, an unspoken disparity of affection, and we both ended up going our own ways - which meant now using different routes to the cafeteria. A life lesson, as they say.

Oh, and I somehow found the time to learn to drive. A stick shift, no less. I guess they don't teach that stuff anymore.

In 11th grade, I chose not to join the Peace Corps - which was then recruiting earnest, English-speaking workers to move to Sudan. I knew I needed the volunteer hours for my college applications, but I felt two years away from home would be tough emotionally. Sure, I had slept over at a friend's house a night here and there, but Africa seemed so far away.

By 12th grade, I finally became serious about college. I took the SAT, which was a rather long and detailed examination with no relevance to my future - yet uncharted. You were timed, too, which didn't sit well with me. But I got through it. Students today take the SAT a minimum of 12 times, although some slackers stop at eight. They will fail in life, of course.

Then, rather than apply to 10 to 12 schools, I chose two, and one (UCLA - on the basis of its famous initials alone) was out of the question. Before applying, I could have visited the University of Florida, but instead I asked a friend already at UF whether he could recommend the school. I'll never forget what he told me: "Sure. Why not." I was on my way!

I assessed my class rank (of our 550 students, I was proudly somewhere in the middle). I got my letters of recommendation, although I learned later my mom's letter was disqualified. Back then, we didn't have early action, early panic or early mental breakdown, so I waited to apply, waited until about August of that year. Seemingly days later, I found myself in college.

I don't remember any honors program, but I got a good education. The Gators had another good football team. I also remember Burrito Brothers on University Avenue, and the Purple Porpoise bar. I had my stick shift but left the Hot Wheels at home.

Mainly, I remember it all working out. After all that worry and work, college somehow just works out. A lesson learned, maybe.

rob.hiaasen@baltsun.com

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