Because the only household income at the time is what I made working 8 hours per week at McDonald’s earning $4.25 per hour, I couldn’t afford college application fees and therefore I only applied to Miami University. The fee just to apply there was more than I earned in a week. I knew they’d accept me. First, because at the time they had to accept Talawanda High School graduates, and secondly because of my strong academic record. I’m not bragging about it. I’ve mentioned before that my intelligence is a gift and I certainly didn’t give that gift to myself. I mention it because it’s relevant to my story. I had a 3.8 GPA, 1400 SAT (800 math), and 31 ACT score in addition to being on the basketball team, working, and taking a very challenging academic course load. I mention my specifics because I believe I’d have had many better opportunities than Miami. I know I would’ve been accepted to schools with stronger academic programs and would’ve had scholarship offers at schools ranked similarly to my alma mater.
Of course, I live in my current life with my current situations, and I cannot change the past. Nor do I wish to. I would be an altogether different person had my experiences been different. Going to a better school, or going to a similar school for free, in no way guarantees a better life. More money does not equal more happiness. Different is not always better.
My first year at Miami was free as I took the courses through a post-secondary enrollment options program offered by the state of Ohio when I was technically a senior in high school. I earned 16 credit hours my first semester and 10 second. Combined with the 6 credit hours I earned from Valencia Community College my sophomore year in high school, I had a total of 32 credit hours and was officially a sophomore in college before graduating high school in 1996.
My freshman/senior year, I made the high school basketball team, but chose not to play, primarily because of my ankles, but also because it felt weird being in the high school solely to play basketball while attending college full time.
In the 3 1/2 weeks between finishing my freshman classes at Miami (which ended the first week of May) and attending my high school graduation, I wrote the album, “Intro To My Mind.” I wrote 14 songs and kept 13, including “Weightliftin’ Jam” and “Playin’ a Little Basketball,” two fan favorites to this day. (I recorded the album at Applebarn Recording Studios in Liberty, KY in June of 1996. The recording process took 3.5 hours.)
At the time I wrote the songs, both were a huge part of my life. Since I started receiving around $300 per month in social security benefits because my mom died when I was a minor, I no longer worked at McDonald’s. I was living with my grandmother, who was kind enough to let us live at her house and helped look after us, along with my dad. He’s one of the biggest reasons I kept going. I knew if he could keep going, so could I. The fact that I no longer had to work, combined with classes being out for the summer, meant I had tons of free time and very little money. So, I lifted weights, played a little basketball, and ran daily. I remember getting a physical when I was 17 before being admitted to Miami, and the doctor told me I had a resting heart rate of 48, the same as Michael Jordan’s! Yes, I remembered MJ’s resting heart rate because an announcer made reference to it when discussing what kind of peak physical condition Jordan was in.
My sophomore year started off bumpy, setting a tone that should’ve made me find a way to transfer schools, but I genuinely didn’t have the emotional energy after everything that happened leading up to this point. First, Miami sent me a letter stating, “We cannot prove you are a U.S. citizen,” even though I had already earned a full year of credits at their institution. Whoever processed my paperwork entered the 8 in my social security number as a 3. I had to go to the Registrar’s office 3 times, with my father because I was under 18, to get that straightened out.
I also learned that my SAT scores meant nothing to Miami when considering scholarships, and that had I a received a 32 on the ACT instead of a 31, I would’ve received a scholarship. I only took each test once for financial reasons. Worse than that, the government considered every penny of the social security benefits I received after my mom died as family contribution towards college, making me ineligible for thousands of dollars in grants. I do not know if legislation has changed that, but it should. No child should be told that because they lost a parent before turning 18 that they are not technically poor enough to receive assistance.
All told, my loans were just short of my tuition, and I couldn’t get personal loans as a minor, so I had to work my sophomore year. Through a work-study program, I got a job shelving books at King Library for minimum wage ($4.25 per hour). It was boring, but infinitely better than working at McDonald’s, so I was very grateful to have it.
I remember walking to class one day, and I was behind two girls. One of them said to the other, “My mom just got a new car and wants to give me her old one, but the car I have now is only 2 years old, and my mom’s old car is only a year old, so I don’t know if I want to take my mom’s old car or keep the one I have now.” That conversation made me consider transferring schools. First, I was stupefied that this was a problem worthy of discussion, and secondly I felt very out of place.
My entire freshman and sophomore years I felt considerably out of place. Skipping a grade made no difference to me socially during middle school and high school, aside from being in the same grade as my best friend, but being a 16 year old college student made me feel incredibly isolated.
I had zero confidence when it came to talking to Miami girls. What was I going to say, “Wanna come over to my grandma’s house? I’m 16 and really nerdy. Maybe we could play some chess or do some math, or watch Beavis and Butthead?” I was poor, depressed, had bad acne, bad teeth and was 2 years younger than the youngest girls at Miami. This was especially awkward given societal laws.
I did what I did in high school. I focused on school, hung out with high school friends, and lived with my grandmother. In some ways, this definitely inhibited my growth. The real benefit of college isn’t the overpriced courses, it’s the experience. Going away to college and learning to live on your own is an invaluable experience, and not one I had in the same way as most college students. In other ways, however, I did grow. I also think it helped strengthen my beliefs that family is immensely important, and true friends are life’s greatest gifts. I was also lucky enough to get my first press coverage. You’ll see in the attached article that I was a computer science major (Miami called it SAN, or Systems Analysis, at the time).
My sophomore year was more challenging than my freshman year, not just for financial reasons, and my social awkwardness, but because that was the year my best friend went off to college. He wasn’t that far, as he went to the University of Cincinnati, but I didn’t have a car, or even a driver’s license, because I couldn’t afford either. This meant I only saw my best friend about once a month, when he’d come home.
This lead me to find a new circle of friends, some I still consider friends today, and others who helped lead me to make some very bad decisions…
In the summer of 1997, I fell in love, and that fall hurt pretty badly. It started off inconsequentially. I would often go to Wendy’s for lunch, usually getting their buffet. Yes, Wendy’s used to have a buffet. The buffet had a ton of stuff, including pizza. Wendy’s was in uptown Oxford at the time (1 W High St., where Chipotle is now). While eating lunch there, the same girl would usually refill my Cherry Cokes. To protect her, I’ll call her Alyssa. We said very little, except “Another Cherry Coke?” “Yes, please. Thank you!” Until one day I saw her sitting on the bench outside. She looked down, so I said “are you all right?” That question turned into a 9 hour conversation. I had finally gotten my driver’s license and a car (I was 18 1/2), so most of the conversation took place while driving. I loved to drive and gas was under $1 per gallon then, so I explored quite a bit. After many hours of aimless driving, I was very lost. I said “we must be getting close to Hamilton by now,” and immediately saw a sign that read “Welcome To Cincinnati!” We both laughed, but I soon realized where we were and got home about an hour later.
It was dark when I first asked if she was ok. The sun was definitely shining brightly when we finally got home. She had to be back to work 2 hours later, so she took a nap on the davenport at my grandma’s house.
The next day, her ex-boyfriend found me at work. (I was employed at Shell Gas Station at this time, selling gas and making donuts. I still don’t like donuts to this day because I used to make them there.) He told me I should ask her out, that I’d be good for her. Until then, I hadn’t thought of her that way, or at least didn’t realize it.
I soon did.
A few days later, he came to me and said “You know I could take her back from you any time I wanted to. But I never would.” I hadn’t even asked her out, but I knew I was going to the next time I saw her. By the time I saw her again they had gotten back together.
They had broken up at least 10 times, so I was just waiting for it to happen again. Very, very foolish. They stayed together for a year and a half. At the same time, her and I talked for hours every day. I never made a move, though. I respected their relationship and knew I’d only be hurting everyone involved if I did something.
However, the situation definitely clouded my judgment. In the fall of 1997, I started skipping my classes at Miami to drive one of my new found friends to his classes at Southern Ohio College. Very, very, very stupid! My heart was in the right place, but I obviously wasn’t considering my own situation when trying to help a friend with his. I stopped going to class during the second week of the semester. I slowly withdrew from the university by dropping individual classes. By the time I dropped my last class, it was several weeks later, and the professor for the final class I was dropping told me that I had to go to the registrar to officially withdraw from the university. By this time, I was responsible for half the semester’s tuition. Had I officially withdrawn when I stopped attending classes, I would’ve only owed Miami about $200 instead of $2,000. This made the obstacle of getting back to school after dropping out even bigger.
I’ll discuss my road back to college in the next installment of this blog.