Summer in the Waiting Room: Faith • Hope • Love
Chapter 5: Hail, Spartans, Hail!
Registration day at San Jose State was overwhelming. Thousands of people waited in long lines to sign up for classes at the tables spread out on the large lawn of the main quad. The university’s iconic ivy-covered tower stood guard over the entire scene. That first semester, I took a full load of courses that included science, math, history, English, and of course basketball for physical education.
At school, I was on my own. Professors didn’t constantly remind students to complete reading assignments, homework didn’t have to be submitted on a daily basis, and there were just a few midterm and final exams. Since I loved to read, this was going to be easier than I thought, so I paid more attention to developing a social life as a college student. After classes, I read a little bit at the library, then walked over to the student center looking to meet people. Unlike in high school, however, I was having a hard time making friends. SJSU was a commuter college, so the students were, on average, older than traditional college students. Everyone seemed busy, serious, and in a hurry to leave campus. I was still seventeen years old.
Fortunately, football season was in full swing. I went back to the comfort of the cocoon and used my status as a student to get cheap tickets for my friends. They were either working or trying to figure out what to do in their next phase of life. At Spartan Stadium, we crashed tailgate parties, checked out girls, and watched college football. In the stands, we acted like a bunch of drunken hooligans cheering the team onto victory. SJSU won the conference championship that year. With fists pumping in the air, we shouted in unison with the student section, “Hail, Spartans, hail!” Viewmont Avenue and the surrounding neighborhood had gone to college.
Soon I began to leave campus right after classes like the other commuter students, bypassing the library and student center. I went straight home to read before I went to work at the shoe store. On days off, I got together with the guys to drink beer and hang out. My academic performance was predictable. I earned a B in history and English, an A in PE, and dropped the math and science classes to avoid failing grades. I registered for a full load of five classes the next semester, adding a Spanish class to my schedule of general education courses. I took classes haphazardly rather than for a declared major or a specific road map toward graduation.
One night while drinking at a friend’s house, a former schoolmate, who I’m sure was envious of me, told everyone there that I was wasting my time going to college. I was meant to be a working stiff like everyone else from the neighborhood, he said. Drunk and depressed, I believed every word.
When the third semester of college came to an end, my academic career at San Jose State collapsed. The bright future that my parents, teachers, and many others had predicted had vanished. San Jose State University sent a certified letter to inform me that I had been academically disqualified from the university. I flunked out. There was no cocoon to protect me. I now had to find a way to protect myself from the cocoon. With my self-worth completely eroded, I dove deeper into the abyss of self-destruction.
Next time: My life continues to spiral in another excerpt from Chapter 5…