If you’re lucky enough to get lucky, seize the opportunity!

Life is good backpack

With a little bit of luck, as my daughter’s backpack says, Life is good.

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. 🙂

A family photo from the early 80s. Tried to crop it so it had just my parents, but no dice.

A family photo from the early 80s. Tried to crop it so it had just my parents, but no dice.

About RJ Crayton

RJ Crayton is a former journalist who now writes fiction. She's reported for the Kansas City Star and Wichita Eagle, as well as the smaller publications Education Technology News and Campus Crime. She has two published novels, Life First and Second Life and blogs for Indies Unlimited and the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies. For exclusive content and first looks at her new work, sign up for the newsletter at http://rjcrayton.com/subscribe.
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7 Responses to If you’re lucky enough to get lucky, seize the opportunity!

  1. Pingback: Destiny? | DV Berkom Books

  2. DV Berkom says:

    Nice! Two posts of being in the right place at the right time this morning (re: TD McKinnon’s post on IU). Thanks, RJ 🙂

  3. What a cute post! Thanks for sharing.

  4. How wonderful for you parents.

    But another side is darker. It looks like it was a numbers game and they really didn’t care as long as they filled the quota. I hope that has changed somewhat to make it more based on qualifications. I know they needed a certain ACT score, but I think they likely used other criteria for the rest of the students. It was a move in the right direction but much more needs to be done, even still.

    • RJ Crayton says:

      Yvonne, I don’t know if they didn’t care about the numbers. The student recruiters may have been a recognition that the university’s normal recruitment department didn’t know where to look to find promising students. They were a, basically all white university, and if they looked in the usual places, maybe they would have found some students, but would they have brought the diversity they sought. The other issue was that many black students didn’t necessarily see college as an option (my mom was interested, but my father had pegged police officer as the route to middle class life) and they wanted to reach those students as well.

      Right now, I’m not sure what the U of I’s diversity rates are. My parents are dutiful alumni and go to a fair number of Alumni events and certainly recommend the school. My youngest brother is also an alum, and was the school’s NSBE (national society of black engineers) vice president when he attended. The school, I’m sure makes efforts at diversity now, but its extremely hard to get accepted. In 1968, college was still somewhat of a luxury item, so admission was easier in general. My husband’s parents were dating and his mother had planned to go to a teaching college that was not the same as his father. Well, she rode up to tour his college with him, and one of the admissions people there said to her, you two are such a cute couple (and he marry someone else if you let him go), you should just come here. They admitted her right then, on the spot. So, I don’t think people can draw too many parallels about admissions processes then and now.

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