Thursday, March 27, 2014

No. 70 – Are You Experienced

Performer: The Jimi Hendrix Experience
Songwriter: Jimi Hendrix
Original Release: Are You Experienced?
Year: 1967
Definitive Version: None.

A cool video of this song, which has the greatest backwards guitar solo of all time, came out my junior year at Wabash. You should check it out.

My junior year was my best year at college. When I wasn’t becoming the voice of Wabash sports, I was excelling academically. In the fall semester, I had a 3.75 GPA: two A’s, an A-minus and a B-plus. The second semester was even better.

My GPA dropped a bit: a 3.67, but I made up for it in different ways. That semester I took English 2, composition. It fulfilled my language requirement, which was one reason why I took it. (A short-sighted decision, alas. In retrospect, I wish I’d taken more Spanish.)

My English 2 professor was Dr. Rosenberg—the same Dr. Rosenberg on whose tenure committee I sat a year later. English 2 was my first class with him as a professor, and it seemed I could no wrong in his class. I got an A, easily. I wouldn’t say it was an easy A, because I worked my butt off, but all my papers came back with pointy-top letters.

However, Dr. Rosenberg took a particularly keen liking to a paper I wrote called “The Confessions of a Baseball Card Addict” about some of my experiences in collecting baseball cards, which continued to the day despite the fact I no longer was a kid. On the title page, there was an A and a note to see him. OK.

In his office, Dr. Rosenberg said he loved the paper so much he wanted to—with my permission—submit it for the McCarty-Harrison Essay Award. The award was part of Wabash’s annual awards program, an exclusive banquet meant to honor the best of academia each year. Ed had attended the previous year.

I was surprised but pleased—as well as honored—that he thought that highly of my work. I mean, let’s face it: The biggest thrill a writer can have is approval of his or her work—any accolades are ancilliary.

I was on pins and needles the rest of the semester awaiting word. Sure enough, it came in the affirmative. In April, I got an invitation to attend the awards dinner. My roommate Brian also was invited. He said that meant we won … something. (He didn’t know for what he had been nominated.) Only those who win were invited to the awards banquet.

That meant I had to have won for my essay. How awesome was that? If approval is all a writer wants, next to that is to be paid for his or her work. Dr. Rosenberg had told me that the top prize for the McCarty-Harrison award was a $500 honorarium. That was a good chunk of money to me at the time.

The dinner was held in the basement of the Sparks Center in the Little Giant room, which was an old-school college swanky lounge, where you imagine elite alums rub elbows over martinis and euchre. I’d been in that room for a few less-than-elite occasions, including the Monon Bell debates, which was a chance to cheer for Dear Old Wabash and taunt Dannie students for their lack of erudition.

After the proverbial rubber-chicken dinner, it was time to start doling out the awards. My nerves began to build as I waited to get to my category. I knew I’d won, but the McCarty-Harrison award had three prizes—first, second and third. I wanted the top prize, of course. Brian’s prize was in German studies.

Then came the English department honors. I was half paying attention when they announced the Ruth Margaret Farber Award for the member of the junior class who showed the most promise as a student of English lit.

Then I heard my name. What?

I was stunned. I didn’t know such an award existed … and I won it. With a smile of disbelief, I accepted. In retrospect, I shouldn’t have been surprised. I got an A in every English class (four) that I took that year, and I had three professors who extolled my work throughout the year. At the time, I had no idea.

Then came the McCarty-Harrison award. Someone else took third prize. Oh boy … Then my name was called. I took second prize. OK, so I finished behind someone who wrote a thesis about world policy and the progression of the human spirit, but, still, I was disappointed. I wanted to win. It’s funny, but in retrospect, it was like I won an Oscar for best movie, but I was disappointed that I didn’t win for best screenplay.

My disappointment was lessened when I got home and called Beth to tell her about my evening. I said I finished second in the essay contest. I got $250, which was great and all ... Then I opened the Farber award. It was for $750. Holy crap!

Needless to say—but I’ll say it anyway—that paid for a fair amount of dates that summer and put a big exclamation point on my academic year.

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