Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Guest Blog: How I Got Into Grad School (With a Full Ride, No Less)

[Editor: A very good friend of mine has recently started his first year of graduate school in a very good anthropology program. He asked if he could share his story on my blog and, despite the fact that I know he is a crass writer, I decided to oblige him. Let me disclaim two things: (1) His writing is usually much better than this; he must have been drunk. (2) These are not my opinions or statements. Without further ado, J. Anonymous' blogging debut:]

This story does not start with some memorable one liner like “All this happened, more or less” from Slaughterhouse-Five or “It was a pleasure to burn” from Fahrenheit 451, this story starts with my humble beginnings on a side street on the West Side of Cleveland and takes me to where I am today: reading a plethora of books to prepare for Graduate School in the Fall. Me, yes me, Graduate School.

Even from the beginning, I knew that I was smarter than everyone else. I mean, not everyone, but you know what I mean. This got me into some trouble later on down the line but we can save that for later. So, we are on the West Side of Cleveland… I was born in Cleveland, lived there for a few years and then my parents had a choice: send my older brother to Catholic school, or move us to the country. To the country we went. We moved out from the city right before I was about to start kindergarten. I do not remember liking it very much. It was too far away from my grandmother, whom I still adore to this day. On the other hand, we had a massive yard and considerable room to play.

Let’s fast forward a few years… I am in say 4th grade. My school believed in grades (A,B,C, etc.) for grade school children instead of the S/U system many now have. I had not gotten anything besides an A. EVER. I actually had to do math and reading with the 6th graders. I did not make it into the “Gifted” kids program because they thought I was a little rambunctious. Still am if I do say so myself. So, yeah, 4th grade. Well, my Dad decided he had had enough with the wife and kids and didn’t come home on Valentine’s Day. He was off with his new thing (my current stepmother). She is 13 years younger than him. Well needless to say, I didn’t really take this too well. My older brother had a father growing up and was too old to be really angry and my younger brother was too young to really remember having a father at all. I mean, my dad was around afterwards (Wednesdays and every other weekend) but it just wasn’t the same.

So… 5th grade rolls around and I started getting C’s. Parents got pissed, I got pissed, I go to counseling. Oh, one quick thing, I have never had many friends because 1) I think most people are lemmings with not much to offer, 2) I hate people, and 3) I am quite the asshole, or so I have been told on countless occasions. I know, I know, kind of weird me going to Graduate School in Anthropology, but I think of myself as slightly reformed. I have learned to tolerate other people. So, my friend pool of 10 had dropped to a friend pool of 2 after my parents got divorced and I actually cared then about friends (not really today).

Let’s fast-forward to 7th grade. I am TROUBLE (capital letters intended). The next few years are very interesting. For one, I like to fight. Fist fight. I find it entertaining. I discovered this around then. I was suspended 10 times in junior high: a bunch of times for fighting, once for urinating in some kid’s shoes, and once for calling the principal dumb. Well he was dumb. He thought I was dealing drugs to kids on the bus (I was, just marijuana though, don’t judge, YOU had to get it somewhere) and he called me down to his office. I told him that he was too stupid to catch me, he suspended me. Also during this time I was diagnosed with ADHD and Bipolar Disorder.

So, I am in 9th grade. My grades are average. I hate homework. The classes do not challenge me. I sleep during class. I get A’s on all the tests and refrain from my homework, net grades: B’s and C’s. Another thing about me, I am an athlete. By athlete I mean that I am pretty much good at any sport I play. You would not know by looking at me now, but this is true. So I continue my fighting and drug usage (marijuana only) and keep getting suspended. I go to a different therapist this time. Oh, I have never taken any medication for any disorder that I have. I have been formally diagnosed by two separate psychiatrists and they independently concurred about my conditions. This therapist is a New Age hippy type. I like him instantly. He is laid back, not pushy, and smart: my kind of guy. So he vaguely suggests that some illegal substances can control the symptoms of my conditions. I look this up on the internet and find some things about marijuana usage and bipolar disorder. I continue to smoke marijuana.

Well pretty much my whole high school career goes like that. Do enough to please the parents, but nothing else. Have fun. Do pretty much what I want. I was not easy to handle for my poor mother either. After the divorce she had to work two jobs and go to school to support us. My dad worked (and still works) for an aerospace giant. He paid a ton in child support money but it was never enough. We were pretty poor from about 4th grade until about 9th grade, when my mom got her new job (which she recently retired from at 55 and is now traveling around the country with her RV, boyfriend, and their two Harley-Davidson motorcycles).  During this time of relative poverty, I was a terror. I never listened, I beat up my younger brother, I ran away; I did a lot of nasty things to my mother. I have since apologized.

So, I (read: parents) decide that after high school that college is right for me. I apply to a few schools, get into a couple, and decide to go to one. I didn’t really know what I was going to go for or what I really wanted to do with my life. So I took some classes, and partied, with a lot of girls; A LOT of girls and A LOT of parties. I actually never took any classes, I mean I was registered for them and went to the exams, but I never actually went. I would wake up at 4pm, find my buddy to buy Natural Light for me, find my roomie with the marijuana, find some girls and some buddies, and party until 8am. I did this for an entire school year. My GPA was something like .87. Awesome.

So I come back home from college and my dad (we have a good relationship now) sits down with me and a bottle of whiskey and gives me two options: 1) go to the local community college and 2) go into the military. Well, not wanting to go to community college with all the local dumbasses, I pick military. Hindsight being 20/20, this was possibly the best decision that I have ever made in my life. I decided on a military branch and went in. Oh man, the people were REALLY stupid in there.

In boot camp I had issues because I thought I was smarter than everyone else, even the drill instructors. They hated me. I was a smart ass (still am), I did everything just barely enough, I was a middle-of-the-road smart ass. Well, I learned a few things about knowledge in the military, the foremost being that there are different types of knowledge. I am pretty much all-around smart. I read and understand, I am “street smart”, I can synthesize information, and pretty much anything else that has to do with learning I am good at. But one thing that I did not have was experience. Experience is a form of knowledge different from any other. I kind of knew this as a child. I loved talking to the elderly (and still do). I think this is because I realize that they have something that I can never have: as much experience as they do. They might not be “smart” or be able to figure things out, but what I can learn from them is invaluable. Well I learned this the hard way in the military. I did what I needed to do in the military to get exactly what I wanted. I received many medals and ribbons and gained rank at the earliest opportunity every time. I did not forget how to party though and this led me down another path, a dangerous one, marriage.

How I met my wife is a story for Penthouse Letters, but needless to say it was partying. We hit it off right away, moved in a couple weeks after meeting, and were married 5 months later. It was tumultuous. We didn’t know each other, didn’t have time to court and figure each other out. I can’t count the times we almost got divorced. But we were in love and that kept us together. She got out of the military and then a year later I got out and we moved back to my home, where I am sitting now.

When I got out of the military, I decided that I would go to that same local community college that I had forsaken before. It was a good choice. Being a non-traditional student, it was best to start off easy. I did everything that I needed to do to be exactly where I wanted. I have not gotten a B since I have been back to school. My GPA when I graduated with my Bachelor’s was 3.97. I got 2 A-‘s. I took an introductory anthropology class at this community college, felt my calling, and changed my major. I have lived and breathed anthropology since then. I see anthropology everywhere in almost every situation.

Well, I finished at community college and went on to a nice state school. You see, going to a state school is vital for well-roundedness. Oh, I pretty much dislike private school kids, always have. But that is another discussion. At my nice quiet state school with its little anthropology department, I flourished. I stood out immediately. Not because I kissed ass or because I stayed around campus a lot (I commuted and my commute was 45 minutes each way), but because I lived and breathed anthropology. I loved it. I honestly have not done anything “above and beyond”. If you asked any of my peers at my nice state school about me, they would say that I am never around, I love anthropology, and that I am an asshole. That is how they would describe me. My immediate friends would say that they are jealous of my ability to do what they do with half the effort. Oh, I only do homework on Sundays. During football season you can see how this can be a problem. But I really only count homework as actual class work. Reading doesn’t count. It is fun. I can write papers ridiculously fast. They are also fun, but count as class work.

So during the first summer at my nice state school, I studied abroad. It was fantastic and I learned so much about anthropology in practice. Applying theory and learned method is really amazing. I think all the time that I have actually learned nothing in my undergraduate years in anthropology, but looking back on that makes me think how much I have learned; all the mistakes that I made that I would never make now.

Well, during the first couple weeks of my study abroad I learned that my wife (still the same one) was pregnant. FEAR was the first thing that hit my mind. Then I was interested in having a Mini-Me. Then I was happy. I got back, we had the baby, then life became hard. I have learned so many lessons being married and being a father. This has only made me a better person. It is hard at times because I need to read and the little one wants to play with daddy. I also need to foster the relationship with my wife, who makes me a complete person. We are having another baby this summer and I am sure that that will make it even harder in grad school.

Just an afterthought… I never really wanted to go to one of the “top tier” graduate schools. First, I don’t like private education (not that all the “top tier” schools are private). Second, most of them are too big. I mean the departments are big. The one school that I was looking at had something like 40 professors and double that at least grad students. And lastly, I don’t really like “top-tier” anyway. I like the school I am going to, I like my advisor and many of the other professors, I like the campus, I like the other graduate students, I like the program, and my wife likes it. I got into another graduate school (I applied to 4) but I decided that I liked this one better. It is a better fit. So that is where I am at in my life. I am so happy that people decided to invest so much money in my education and in me as a person. I cannot wait to start in the fall!

[Editor: J. Anonymous has since had his second beautiful child (and I was there). Also, he doesn't mention it (aside from the title) and you may not gloss it from this writing sample, but he was accepted into his program with full funding.]

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