ESSAY 3 – College
The University of Kansas City, as you know had a small Liberal Arts college at the time I attended it. Clarence Decker was the person who was primarily responsible for the University. He and his wife conceived of the school and raised the funds. His idea was that this school would be run in a fashion similar to the University of Chicago. The basic concept was that if one is well educated in basic subjects they could use that foundation as a jumping off place to any area of knowledge. So students had to have courses in Social Studies, Sciences (physics, biology, chemistry and the like), English, international cultures or languages, History (American and World), Arts (Fine Arts and Music) and Physical Educaton. These were to take up most of the first two years of college.
I had done well enough in the first couple of years to have a good grade point average. For some reason I do not remember at all – my parents and I decided I should leave UKC, and matriculate at Leland Stanford University in Palo Alto, California. And so I sent an application there, and was accepted as a student in good standing. Leland Stanford was a prestigious University in the Western part of the United States. It was considered a University of major importance in the country. It was much larger than UKC.
Well, the long and short of it is that I did not do well. I don’t know all the reasons I did not do well, but certainly one of them was the size of the school. I had known almost
everyone at the Liberal Arts school of UKC, and I knew no one at Stanford. At UKC, I had had access to areas of learning that were only open to a very few. I was just someone else at
Stanford – just one other person in the school. There were no places where I could continue learning about more advanced psychological subjects – even in the psychology department. I
was just a small fish in a very large pond.
Then too I had spent time in California in the years before this, and had emotional baggage that had more influence over me than I realized consciously at the time. California was where an aunt and uncle lived, and I had spent time with them some summers living at the Fairmont Hotel in their suite of permanent rooms, and had spent time on one of their ranches rounding up cattle and riding around on horseback. California was where my mother, sister and I went on a 12 day horseback trip up Mt. Whitney. And California was where my father, mother, and I were when I heard of my sister’s serious illness (she was in Italy), and where I was a few days later when I heard of her death. And, although I did not know it at the time, my father had wanted to attend Stanford when he was first married, and could not afford it. I am sure he was hoping I could take his place there, and do well.
There is no question that all of these conditions worked together to make me feel ill at ease in Palo Alto in the very large school. As I think back on the time I realize how very lonely and isolated I felt. I had enjoyed the freedom I had at UKC. The freedom of movement included an academic freedom. A freedom to explore any area of knowledge that I wanted to explore. As I have described in other places, my area of special interest was psychology, and I had explored areas well past those usually afforded persons of my academic level.
I lived in a 1 room apartment off campus, and rode to school on a three wheeled motor scooter. It was a motor scooter with a sidecar where I could put my books or packages. It did not
snow there, so the open motor scooter was ok that way, but Palo Alto (near San Francisco) gets way more than its share of rain. Therefore some days I got pretty wet. I frequently had a
large green poncho on to protect me from the rain. Again, I did not have a lot of friends, but I ate inside at the same drive-in restaurant many days a week, and would always order a ½
dozen eggs over easy. I got to know the waitress pretty well. She was about 10 years older than I, and was in a common law marital relationship. She had been for about 10
years. Common law marriages were legal in California then, but not in all states. I had never met a person who so openly stated her relationship before. I was attentive, and
thereby increased my knowledge of social events.
So, I must have sort-of hibernated there at Stanford. I learned several things, however. For one thing I learned I did not like very large schools such as Stanford. At every turn I felt worse and more constrained and friendless there. I don’t want to overstate the friendless part. I had never had many friends. Rather I always have been sort of a loaner except for a guy I grew up with – a guy who lived across the street from me from the year I turned 6. His name is Burnham Gibbons. He and I were off and on again friends. We would be inseparable for a year or so, and then get mad at each other and not talk for a year. But somehow, I couldn’t find anyone around with whom I had a good time chatting even for a few minutes. So I withdrew from the school and contacts and slept a lot.
That leads me to another thing I learned there. If you sleep to at least 9AM each day, it is a mistake to enroll in an 8AM class.
It was social psychology. I was supposed to be there at 8 and I think I managed to get there at that hour perhaps 3 times in the quarter I was enrolled in that class. So, I failed a psychology class! (Later when I returned to UKC, I retook social psychology, so I could redeem myself and received an A.) It is much easier to get good grades when you at least hear the lecture.
As one can see, my going to Stanford was a mistake. It was a big mistake. I did miserably there, and wasted time and money. I am just not sure why I went there at all. I know at the time it seemed like that was a good idea, but I can not remember at all what could have been seen as good about it.
And so I returned to UKC. Stanford was on a quarter system whereas UKC and most other schools in America were on a semester system. This left me with several weeks or a month or so before I could again enroll in school. Once again my mind is hazy about exact time and order of events. But I will report what I do remember even if the order of events is not precise or exactly accurate.
Coming back from Stanford, I began a different sort of life style, and my life headed into a number of different avenues. When I returned to the University, I associated much more with other undergraduate students, students who were not psychology majors. In fact, I do not remember having any psychology majors as friends. New people were at the University. Don Gibson had arrived from a local Negro High School along with several classmates. The Swope Park swimming pool incident had occurred in my absence. That group was lead by a graduate student who I had known well before I left, and I began to hang around with them more. I became more involved in school politics, more interested in the school newspaper, and in the life of the undergraduate student. I was 21 the summer of 1952. I had not had alcohol much before I was 21, but in that year I began to drink, and I used to party quite a bit. I would often become too inebriated.
Along with developing a new group of companions, I became much more involved with Mrs. Cockefair’s Great Books groups, and became an active leader of Great Books discussion groups. I also had a chance to develop more skills in the field of psychology – a double chance if you will. One opportunity that unfolded was to have a 2 ½ year “internship” a day or two a week at a Child Guidance Clinic under the tutelage of Miss Eleanor Pritchard. Another opportunity was to become a volunteer with the Mental Health Association where I became a guest speaker at many groups on the subject of Mental Health. Somewhere around this time, I was introduced to a young lady named Martha Sue McNish with whom I immediately fell in love, at the first minute I saw her.
But, that is enough for now. Each of these areas has its own history and path, so I will explore each layer in more detail at some subsequent time. But for now it is enough to know that while each had its own path and direction, they all fit to form the three dimensional me. Each has a contribution to my future life, and some are still of influence upon me in my current daily life.