Like so many things memorable to human beings, the idea for this post started with a story.
Not a story I wrote, but a story I heard. A story I vaguely knew about my parents from my childhood, back when I was pretty certain they were fairly boring people. However, my father mentioned a particular detail I’d never heard before, while at the post-funeral meal. It made me think about how much of our lives — good things and bad — boil down to where we are and when.
So, this is the story I knew: my parents attended the University of Illinois (U of I) from 1968-1972. In April of 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated, and there were riots in Chicago and more civil unrest. Down in Champaign, where U of I is located, the students and community demanded more diversity at the school. Officials relented, agreeing to recruit more students of color to attend. The end result of this was Project 500, which, as its name suggests, brought 500-some black students to U of I, offering them scholarships and tuition assistance (not full scholarships; students still had to get loans for some of it). My parents were two of the students who were recruited.
When my parents said they were recruited, I envisioned how students are recruited today. The word, for me, is wrapped in the connotation of athletics and super-students. I envisioned university employees calling to Chicago guidance counselors seeking recommendations, going and meeting with students who perhaps would be a good fit. At the very least, in my mind, recruiting meant something official and organized.
So this is the story I didn’t know. This is the story that emerged when we were eating after the funeral, and my father was telling my brother’s minister (whose son is attending U of I), how he ended up at U of I.
Dad: So, they sent student recruiters out to see who might want to come down to the U of I. My friend called me.
Me: Wait, He just called you and said, “Jerry, you want to go to U of I?”
Dad: (Nods) Basically. You had to have a certain ACT score and he thought I might because I’d gone to one of the two technical academies.
Me: So, Mom, who told you about it?
Mom: My cousin was a police officer, and she had heard about it. She knew I was trying to save up money to go to college, so she told me about it. I went to the office she said and signed the list.
Really? It was sheer happenstance that they were the fortunate “recruits.” And of course, had they done nothing with the phone call from the friend or the tip from the cousin, they never would have gone to school and never would have met. And then no me (feeling Back to the Future-ish right now).
Though the story is a great reminder of just how flukish opportunities can be. It’s also a reminder that when opportunity comes a knocking, recognize it and grab hold. Funnily enough, my father added that his father wasn’t particularly excited about him going to college. “I’d been planning on being a cop,” my Dad said. “My dad didn’t know what people with college degrees did, but he sure knew what cops did and he liked that.” While his father wasn’t keen on college initially, he didn’t try to dissuade his son from going. Again, another time when chance could’ve swung in the opposite direction, but didn’t. (And don’t worry, my dad has nine siblings, so even though he didn’t become a cop, my grandpa ended up with 3 children who are police officers.)
So, on this lovely Aug. 10, I salute luck, and hope that I may recognize great opportunities when they come my way. I also wish my parents a very happy 42nd wedding anniversary. I’m glad they were both nice enough people that a friend wanted to pass on information about this U of I project that they might be interested in. 🙂