School should be more than just an education
As my son readies for college, I reminisce about what it was like 50 years ago when I left homew to go to college. It was a different world then and a different world today
By Ray Hanania
My son Aaron leaves for college next week and I spent a lot of time trying to describe what it was like when I went to college in the early 1970s. That’s when I realized how different it is today.
I don’t how families today can afford to send their kids to college without mounting huge debt. Fortunately, my son Aaron is brilliant with straight A’s since 5th or 6th Grade so the scholarships were pouring in for him. A’s were more or less a long term goal for me. During 6th grade, the principle told my mom “If little Raymond tries harder, he could be a C-student someday.”
Even with a C-minus grade point average, no money and a widowed mom, I managed to make it to college in 1971 with a large plastic bag of clothing, my guitar, and a few dollars to cover the costs of books.
Grant Towers North had its own cafeteria and the food was pretty good. No stuffed grape leaves or other Middle Eastern meals I loved, but the out-of-pocket costs were still pretty affordable.
Unlike my son, I wasn’t ready for college. I had aptitudes for writing and math I never seriously pursued. I was under pressure to pursue pre-med because a lot of my relatives were doctors at Christ Hospital and Northwestern. My cousin David living in Jordan was King Hussein’s heart surgeon.
I shared a dorm room with Clarence Patterson, one of two six-foot plus titan brothers who played basketball for the Huskies. Benefits included free tickets to Huskie Basketball games, and Clarence’s girl friend gave me an Afro so I could go to the team parties, though the Afro made me look more like a terrorist than I ever have during my entire life.
My mom couldn’t afford to give me any money. So I always worked, including at Berlands Shoes at the Ford City Mall while at Reavis High school. It paid for the Schlitz Malt Liquor, car insurance and marijuana. When I got to NIU, I found part-time work in the women’s shoe section at Franks Shoes – where “Business was always looking up.” It’s a shoe-store joke. What can I say?
During my sophomore year, I pledged the Theta Chi fraternity and lived on Fraternity Row where I was able to drink and smoke even more. I met Carlos Santana and partied with Mike Love of the Beach Boys. I organized the best booze parties as Social Chairman that began on Thursdays and didn’t end until Sunday nights. I washed dishes at a nearby Tri-Sig sorority house where I got free dinner.
We had a crazy president back then, Richard M. Nixon. Unlike President Trump who is doing his best to get us in to a war, Nixon was trying to get us out of a war. By the time my sophomore year ended, my low draft number compelled me to quit school and enlist in the Air Force. I was assigned to an F-111 Fighter Squadron scheduled to ship overseas to Vietnam. Before I knew it, though, Nixon downsized the war, gave me an Honorable Discharge and sent me packing to the Illinois Air National Guard in Peoria where I served a total of 10 years as a “Weekend Warrior.”
The military kicked my ass into consciousness. It was the best thing I ever did. It woke me up. Vietnam Era military service entitled me to the G.I. Bill, paying my tuition to return to Circle Campus and gave me a monthly living stipend of about $480, which was a lot back in 1973.
Before I knew it, I was recruited as a writer by the Southtown Economist to cover education.
Even though my hair was pretty straight, the FBI opened a two-year long investigation into my background. Being “Palestinian” to them meant I was a potential terrorist, even without the Afro. What a waste of money that was!
I have this strong feeling that my son’s experience in college is going to be a lot smoother and more productive. The kid’s a genius.
But if it wasn’t for the “School of Hard Knocks,” I don’t think I’d be where I am today.
Aaron has a better, clearer focus on where he wants to go. He’s going to study the environment because he is worried about the growing threat of pollution on future generations.
I know he is going to do well.