Sunday, June 9, 2013

No. 361 – The Punk and the Godfather

Performer: The Who
Songwriter: Pete Townshend
Original Release: Quadrophenia
Year: 1973
Definitive Version: None

When the time came to apply for college, I applied to two—DePauw, out of a sense of duty and as a fallback, and Wabash. I was beyond excited when I got the letter in January 1982 saying I had been admitted to Wabash. It was the college I wanted to attend really from the moment I visited the previous fall.

However, my Dad was less excited, and it had nothing to do with the fact that Wabash was arch-rivals with his alma mater, DePauw. That tuition at Wabash cost the princely sum of $8,000 per year had more to do with it. (Now, it costs more for one year than it did for all four for me.)

However, Wabash was as well-known for its largess in giving financial aid (still is) as it was for its single-sex student body, and my high-school grades earned me an invite to Honor Scholar weekend in March 1982.

Honor Scholar was, and I suppose still is (I haven’t looked), a gigantic scholarship program. In March, around spring break, Wabash invites as many as 300 applicants to the college for a day of tests—and of course some recruiting by students in the various houses.

The tests are in Math and English, and, as I recall, they were similar in nature to the SAT although the English test had a bit of a written component to it. The top 10 students get full tuition; the next 10 get three-fourths tuition—all four years of school. The one catch: You had to maintain a 3.0 average for the year to roll the Honor Scholarship over to the next year. Well, I’ll worry about that later.

I was going to stay at the Fiji House again, upon request, but when I drove over for the weekend, I found out that Tom—my Upper Arlington connection—had transferred to Indiana University, apparently to be closer to his girlfriend. That was a bummer, but I met enough guys the previous fall that I felt comfortable staying there.

In fact, I had decided based on my previous experience that I wanted to pledge Fiji. Wabash allowed for early rush, so in addition to scoring high on the tests, I hoped to qualify at the Fiji house.

The tests were in the Ball Theater in the Fine Arts Center—one of the few campus buildings that’s not on the block across the street from the Fiji House. My recollection was they took up the whole day Saturday—three hours in the morning for English, three in the afternoon for math. As was usual for me back then, I didn’t study for the tests. I figured they were like the SAT: There wasn’t anything you COULD study for. You either knew the answers or you didn’t.

I felt pretty good—I did well on my SAT, after all—so with that, I hunkered down to work on my social goal. If you didn’t come to Wabash with girlfriend in place—and I certainly didn’t have one at the time—then the fraternity experience was the only way to go.

I made obligatory visits to a few other houses—at the urging of a few Fijis who said I should—but I went only to the Betas, Sigmi Chis and Phi Psis. My mind had been made up. So I set about meeting and talking with everyone in the Fiji house I hadn’t already met, to get in their good graces.

The night turned into a heck of a party. That weekend, Wabash’s basketball team made it to the final four of the Division III NCAA tournament. The Saturday of Honor Scholar weekend, led by Pete Metzelaars—the same Pete Metzelaars (like there could be another?) who played tight end in the NFL for more than a decade—Wabash won the national championship, whipping Potsdam State. Every individual house party became a campus-wide celebration.

I’d love to tell you about the wild hijinx I got into that night, but I can assure you there weren’t any—I wasn’t a party person then—but I know that I succeeded in one respect. The next day, before I left for home, the incoming house president called me into his room with two other upper classmen to tell me that they wanted me to pledge Fiji. I’m pretty sure I accepted on the spot. After feeling excluded for the past six years in UA schools, I not only was included, but I also was INVITED to be included. What an amazing feeling.

And that wasn’t the end of it. A few weeks later, I got my Honor Scholar results: I was 23rd on the list. That meant I was in a group of alternates. If anyone above the alternates on the list either enrolled elsewhere or got an even-more-prestigious Lilly Scholarship (full ride all four years, no exceptions), the alternates would move up. I needed three people to move up to make it.

Not long after that, I got a call from Wabash, I had moved up to the second tier—three-fourths tuition as long as I maintained a B average. I think Dad was more ecstatic than I was, but I was plenty happy. I could see my whole future in front of me, and it never looked brighter. In two months, I’d be done with Upper Arlington forever and never look back. I couldn’t wait.

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