I was a good student at a very good high school. I wasn't among the eggheads. I wasn't a summa cum laude, magna cum laude or a cum laude of any other kind. I took French, not Latin, and didn't know what those words meant anyway. And the word valedictorian was Greek to me. But I did maintain a solid "B" average, getting "A's" in history, English and social studies to offset "C's" in math and science.
And I did make the honor roll, which got me an asterisk by my name in the commencement program but didn't allow me to sit with the eggheads in the front row. When the superintendent pronounced the Lake Forest (Ill.) High School Class of 1966 graduated, I had to turn my tassel with the rest of the masses sitting behind the brainy showoffs.
My hunt for colleges began with an edict from my dad. Although he was a native Kentuckian who went to UK, he looked down on higher education in the South and wanted me to go to a school in the Midwest. So he dusted off an old compass I rarely used on my way to mediocre grades in math, stuck the point in Chicago, which was 40 miles south of where we lived, and drew a circle that translated to a diameter of 250 miles. My two older brothers were attending very good colleges within 200 miles of the centerpoint and there was no reason for me to escape the Golden Circle of Academe, according to my dad.
With the geographic edict in mind, I started deciding on what schools to apply to. Unlike the brain trust and star jocks in my class, I received no letters of interest. With no one recruiting me, I had to shop myself. So out went letters to five schools. Four were colleges and universities in Illinois and Wisconsin - all well within the Circle - and one was to the place I really wanted to attend -the University of Missouri. It was near the southwestern edge of the circle but still inside of it. I wanted to go to Mizzou because of its top-flight journalism school.
Each and every school responded to my letters and three of them weren't form letters. I felt like a recruit, and that feeling grew after my transcript and the plausible embellishments in my cover letter caused two of them to offer scholarships, as modest as they were. Those two put me on their mailing lists, and I received weekly letters. The recruiting thumb-wrestling match was on.
I eventually decided on Mizzou. I didn't call a press conference or issue a press release. But my decision to attend the university was published in The Scout, my high school newspaper - along with the post-high school plans of the 264 other members of my class.
But the rush of going to one of the great J-schools in the country and the excitement of being kind of, sort of, somewhat recruited soon passed. My racing heart was replaced by cold feet. The main issue was size. Mizzou was gigantic, at least compared to the much smaller, inside-the-circle colleges my two older brothers were attending and absolutely loving. So, at the last minute, I decided that I, too, wanted to go small - and South, back to my familial roots.
So I re-opened the bidding thumb-wrestling match, but there wasn't a lot of competition. I wanted to go to the alma mater of my Kentucky born-and-raised mom and several other family members, Centre College. But, like most colleges and universities, Centre had closed its books on its incoming 1966-67 freshman class.