This spring hundreds of local high school seniors are weighing decisions about college, planning their next life transition this fall. My 17-year-old son is one of them.
As we began preparing for this last year, long forgotten memories of my own slouching toward college in the late 1970s surfaced. My consideration of specific colleges was less a matter of rigorous evaluation than it was about the “feel” I got.
There was the trip to the small Iowa college in the spring of my junior year at OPRF. At a hotel parking lot in Oak Brook, a bus picked up about 40 prospective students for a weekend campus visit. Just after the welcome lunch with the school president, we were split into groups and introduced to our college student “chaperones.” Shortly afterward, our chaperone turned to us and asked, “So, who wants to get stoned?”
I also considered Loyola of Chicago. An avid basketball fan, I came away with rah-rah feelings after attending a number of Loyola games in those years, including upsets of the 1977 champ Marquette and Larry Bird-led Indiana State. I made one “college trip” to the Lake Shore Campus when I spent the day with a neighbor who was a student there.
But I had my hopes on attending the University of Illinois in Champaign. Even before high school, my brother and I had attended football games with my father and his friends. I recall meeting former Chicago Bear and U of I alum Revie Sorey during one visit. Then there was the trip to Champaign in 1976 to watch OPRF compete in the state basketball tournament.
With the U of I, it must have been the aura of the campus I fell for. I loved the place, and I began to visualize enrolling. I knew admission wasn’t certain with my average GPA and ACT score. Nonetheless, I was devastated when the rejection letter came. My father, feeling sympathetic, was going to find another way for me to be admitted.
Back in those days there was a much-abused practice where local state legislators could award state school scholarships to just about anyone who met minimum standards. It was late in my senior year when word came that I’d been “awarded” one of these scholarships. But my initial bliss was soon supplanted by a feeling of guilt for not playing by the rules. To my father’s surprise, I turned down the “scholarship” and attended Loyola, where I enjoyed the city and watching fairly competitive basketball during the early 1980s. Loyola had its own aura with the el and the lakefront, juxtaposed about 300 yards from each other.
My son’s college tour has been uneventful and less dramatic. He made visits to three Illinois schools and decided on U of I after early admission.
It’s amusing that I can’t get a direct answer from him on why he prefers U of I. But that’s OK. I understand. Perhaps we are both genetically disposed to a put a priority on the aura of things.
Anthony Gargiulo Jr. is an Oak Park resident.