In honor of GTFO Aggies Month, I thought I'd share one of the most memorable (and horrific) stories of my academic career, and probably my life. It's a story in which I was caused to doubt myself and my future at time when one is very sensitive to criticism of our life choices, especially when it is coming from someone who is older and in a position of authority.
I was nearing the end of my senior year of high school. I had applied to one and ONLY ONE college. THE University of Texas. I was comfortable with doing so because being in the top 10% of one's graduating class meant that you were automatically accepted to a Texas public university at the time (not sure about the rule these days...). Being the nerd that I was, there was a weekend in April or so (2005) that I was out of town on a school trip for an academic competition. All of these events usually entailed competing as early in the morning as possible...you know, to make sure our brains weren't at their 100% efficiency. The rest of the day was spent in brutal anticipation of the results ceremony.
I'm sure I was enjoying time with my classmates, both close friends with whom I'm still in touch as well as people I haven't seen since high school, when my principal walks over and tells me that there's someone that she wants me to meet. My principal introduced me as the Valedictorian of our school, and this person turned out to be one of her good friends from childhood who is now also a principal at a high profile high school in Dallas. At first, this person seemed pleasant. The usual, "Congratulations, young man...your parents must be very proud," routine. Then the segue into what my future plans were, with my usual response: "I'll be attending UT Austin to major in chemistry, then dental school afterwards."
Her jaw dropped. Was it because I was crazy enough to major in chemistry? No. Was it because I must be some sort of lunatic to want to deal with other people's bad cases of tooth decay and gum disease? No. The following is her monologue as I remember it:
"You're attending a PUBLIC UNIVERSITY? Well young man, I can't say that I agree you're making a good decision. A student of your caliber should be attending Harvard. Yale. Stanford. MIT. Maybe even Rice if you wanted to stay in Texas. Someone with your potential should set the highest standards for yourself. Let me tell you a story: My husband was recently applying for a very high position at his workplace that just opened up. I know that four people applied for the job...one of the men was from Harvard, one was from MIT, and the other from Stanford. You know who got the job? The man from Harvard. Or the man from MIT. Or the one from Stanford. It doesn't really matter, because the fact is that my husband didn't get the job. So when it comes down to it, someday you'll be applying for jobs, and the ones to get the job will always be from Harvard. Or Stanford. Or MIT. Just remember that."
What is someone like me, facing so much uncertainty, supposed to think? This is a HIGH SCHOOL PRINCIPAL, telling me that I've made a very wrong decision for my future. Thoughts swirled through my head....I couldn't imagine anything other than living in Austin. Attending UT football games. 6th street. All the amazing things that I had yet to discover about not only Austin, but myself. Yes, these are the things I wanted. This is how I wanted to spend the next four years of my life. I could only think of one thing to say after standing there for what seemed like an eternity with what I'm sure was an incredibly blank look on my face....
"Where did your husband graduate from college?"
"We're both Aggies. A public institution. Just like UT."
Moral of the story: I learned an important life skill that day - to never let someone else's beliefs cause you to doubt yourself and your own beliefs. Especially an Aggie.