Welcome to Graduate School

In order to be accepted into the University of New Mexico graduate school program, I not only had to provide a transcript from Hobart College, I had to take a standard aptitude test similar to the SAT I’d taken decades earlier.  I also provided letters of recommendation and copies of the various columns I wrote for the Nature Center newsletter.  Unlike Hobart, where I was accepted after being initially rejected, I was promptly accepted at UNM, a pleasant change. 

I entered Hobart immediately after graduation from a public high school and one year of remediation at a private school.  Although my mother never attended college, my father did, and he understood that a college education vastly improved one’s chances for happiness and success.  And, fortunately, college affordability was not an issue with my family.  The Selective Service “student deferment,” which until November of 1969 permitted an eighteen-year-old like myself to avoid service in America’s armed forces―and a likely tour of duty in Vietnam―was also an enticement to enter college.  (I felt no sense of duty to join our armed forces; furthermore, service in any form in the armed forces held no attraction for me.[1])  So, vague expectations and pressing desires, including to grow my hair long, wear bellbottoms, join the “sexual revolution,” and continue my misunderstood-young-man routine, pushed and pulled me into Hobart with seemingly no more control on my part than that of a fallen leaf in the wind.  Still, I was not totally without focus.  I liked to read and write, and from the start decided I would major in English, although I had given absolutely no thought to what I would do with a degree in that subject.  I did assume that upon graduation some job other than mowing a lawn or working in the mill room of a tire factory awaited me, hopefully a job that had to do with writing and literature. 

Entering the University of New Mexico, I had a somewhat clearer vision of my life after graduation: I would be a professional writer, penning novels, stories, or non-fiction, although I had no idea if and how I could make a living doing any of this.  What I was determined to do at UNM was get an education: to attend all of my classes, read all of my assigned books, and enrich my life with ideas, with no distractions from drugs, rock music, political protests, and clumsy attempts to lose my virginity.  I entered the University of New Mexico in September of my thirty-ninth year.

Prior to entering UNM, I was no stranger to its main Albuquerque campus.  Again, I married there; I heard ecologist Paul Ehrlich and New Mexico novelist Tony Hillerman speak there; I heard Itzhak Perlman perform Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in D Major, one of my favorite classical works, in the college’s concert hall.  I loved the look of the campus.  The pueblo revival style that I first noticed in the university’s buildings that front Central Avenue abounded throughout the campus.  It was on particularly impressive display at Zimmerman, the campus’s multi-storied main library, to which I was naturally attracted.  It was so much softer and warmer than the right-angled brick and stone of Hobart’s architecture.  Rather than an institutional chill, the adobe structures lent the campus the warmth and ease of a village in 19th-century “New Spain.”  The campus was attractively landscaped, with paths winding beneath majestic trees offering welcome shade against the still-formidable heat of central New Mexico’s September.

The graduate program had a “foreign language” requirement, so during my first year I took elementary Spanish, which was taught by a vivacious female, a South American doctoral candidate.  Of course, the irony of Spanish as a “foreign language” in New Mexico was not lost on me.  For two years prior to entering UNM, I had heard it spoken―as with any language, not always with perfection―on the sidewalks of downtown Albuquerque and in the lumber yards of Española and Cuba.  I had even made an effort to properly pronounce the few words of Spanish I did understand, although to this day I can’t roll an “r” down Mt. Everest.  Two additional semesters were spent taking a course in translating Spanish.  

Another first-year requirement was a course entitled “Introduction to Professional Study,” taught by an amiable long-time professor who had long, thinly-whiskered sideburns and particularly admired some ancient novel entitled Tristram Shandy.  Among other things, the course dealt with the rules for producing “scholarly” papers, including their proper documentation.  As monsters who had managed to thrive for a dozen years, Nazis had fascinated me since adolescence, so my term paper for the course dealt with the early-eighties hoax known as the “Hitler diaries.” 

[1] My luck in avoiding service in the armed forces continued with the results of an amendment to the Military Selective Service Act of 1967, known as the “draft lottery.”  My lottery number, drawn in December of 1969 and corresponding to my birth date, was 359.  The highest lottery number called for induction was 125.  So, no boot camp, rice paddies, and Saigon go-go bars for me.

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