Wednesday, May 20, 2009
Sunday, May 17, 2009
Here I am at the convocation, giving the undergraduate speech. I've got to say that the whole thing was one of the most awesome moments in my life. Here is the speech....
I have always been something of an armchair polymath… with a little interest in all subjects … and just enough knowledge of them to be dangerous… or dangerously annoying. I was one of those guys who informs you … against your will … about the most inane things: like that Cashew nuts are part of the Poison Ivy Family, or that fluorescent methyl salicylate is why you can shoot sparks off your teeth when you bite a Wint-o-green Life Saver.
I guess it’s a bit surprising that a guy who knew about so many things performed so horribly in high school. In fact, it was only in my art classes that I got A’s. The rest of my grades were poor…. Not even good enough for the guidance counselor to suggest vocational school…. College was never an option back then, and I wound up the next 15 years in a series of low-end, low-wage jobs... Soldier… Cook… bartender… day-laborer… cab driver.
Eventually I managed to turn my artistic side to good use took a nine-month crash-course in production art, and bluffed my way into a series of graphic design positions including managing the art departments of several different regional retail operations.
But, as much as I enjoyed art and being creative, Graphic design wasn’t living the dream. It was not what I wanted to be when I grew up.
This is something we all come to grips with at some point. As children, we all want to be a policeman or a fireman or a nurse or an astronaut, or Brett Favre…. Well, maybe not Brett Favre.
The point is we all have plans, hopes, and dreams, and often as not, we don’t see them come to fruition.
As a child, I wanted to be a sailor, like Popeye. Later, I wanted to be a veterinarian. In middle-school I was a fan of Jacques Cousteau, and wanted to be a marine biologist.
While graphic design wasn’t, as I said, living the dream, it did provide enough money to get by on.
Earlier I referred to myself as a polymath. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, a polymath is, basically, a person whose knowledge is not restricted to one subject area.
And because of my interest in so many different things, I always said that, when I retired, I was going to spend the rest of my days in college, taking classes…This was my new dream.
A friend, tired of hearing this idle threat, asked me why I was waiting until retirement? Why not now?
Well, as one of the truly great philosophical minds of our times, Homer Simpson, said, “I’m no Super Genius. Or are I?”
Sure, I knew why the Dutch wore wooden shoes, but I also knew that I was no super genius. I had doubts that anything had really changed over the nearly thirty years since high school.
Nonetheless, at age 45, I began a fairly remarkable journey. I took the tests, and, started at TVI taking core classes and building up credits to transfer to UNM.
I was a single parent, working full-time—a forty plus hour work week, and I was carrying 12 to 16 hours a semester, going to classes at night and on weekends. A pretty hefty schedule, and in all honesty, I wasn’t expecting great successes.
But a strange thing happened. I started getting A’s. Though at first I laughed at it as a fluke, I began to realize that, yes, I could do this! After the few two semesters, the grades began to become something of a personal competition for me. And then I made the Dean’s List! I never thought such a thing could be possible.
I wasn’t sure what my end goal in college would be, I’d thought about the school of architecture. What happened, though, was that I took a class…for fun…in Creative Writing… and I liked it… And I did really well in it. My instructor, a UNM grad student, encouraged me to pursue writing.
I realized that I did not—by any stretch of the imagination—possess the math skills needed to pursue my dream of being an architect. But I did possess the skills I needed to pursue another dream.
See, ever since I can remember, I’ve written stories. It started with “The Death of a Toad,” an autobiographical confessional-style tale written around age 8. It continued with the stories I wrote and illustrated as a wannabe comic book artist in my pre-teen and teen years. It continued on as an adult, in journals and letters to friends, telling stories and recounting adventures. The fact that I could do those things well … never had occurred to me.
In the years since coming to UNM, I’ve had the greatest encouragement from all of my professors, leading me to grow as both a student and a writer. My senior honors thesis was extremely well-received. I was awarded the Vicente Ximenes Scholarship for graduate study, and UNM’s Creative Writing MFA program has honored me in its acceptance of my application for this coming Fall Semester. My dreams of a continued life in academia have also been realized.
No one is more surprised to see me here than me. A whole new sort of dream has been presented to me and I am going to live it. Now at 50, I finally know what I want to be when I grow up. Thank you
And here's my son, Gabe, who came out to see me. This was the first time I'd seen him since he went out on the road last summer.