The Time My Dad Was an Alumnus of GA Tech

Unlike a lot of you, I had no plans for what I would do after high school. No big dreams, no burning desires, no long-held expectations or lofty goals to shoot for and miss. I didn’t have a favorite college picked out and I hadn’t made any plans to spend my parents money learning how to become a drunk at some far off Academy from which I’d flunk out in a quarter or two.

I was your classic late bloomer. Still am.

The first time the issue of college came up was in my senior year of high school after I had made good scores for the pre-SAT and the the Armed Forces Vocational Aptitude Test (ASVAB). The head of our school’s Air Force ROTC unit, Colonel Dolan, tracked me down in class one day to ask me if I’d considered ROTC. He had visions of getting me into the Air Force, which was fine because I had nothing else going on. So I picked up ROTC for the last couple of quarters of high school. It was great! I learned how to march, got a ride across the county in a big green Huey and went on a strange trip to the Space Center in Huntsville, where several airmen decided to completely destroy their hotel rooms.

But the best thing about ROTC was when Colonel Dolan asked me what colleges I was considering to attend after graduation. The answer of course was that I hadn’t really considered ANY colleges; partly because I didn’t think that my folks could afford it, but mostly because I just hadn’t considered it. It was a bridge I had yet to encounter.

Realizing that he was dealing with someone with no street smarts, Colonel Dolan urged me to contact some local colleges immediately so that I would be enrolled for the approaching Fall Quarter. We submitted for Georgia Tech, but owning to the fact we were submitting so late in the game they were obliged to refuse my application. Looking back, I now surmise that this was due less in relation to Georgia Tech’s class sizes than to the fact that in the mid 1980’s they were trying to look big, bad and world-class to help build their reputation around the collegiate playground as a premiere institution.

So I figured I wasn’t going to college. I have to say that I don’t really remember being all that disappointed because it meant that I wouldn’t have to face some scary new situation (and a whole new year of schoolwork).

But Colonel Dolan persisted.

“So, did you get accepted?” he asked.

“Um, no. They said that Fall Quarter was all full up.”

“Did you try to get in for Summer Quarter?”

“What, you can do that?”

Hey, how were we to know? We were working class, blue-collar, sweat-of-the-brow people. How could we possibly know that you could do an end-run around the school’s bureaucratic BS by going immediately into Summer classes. When Fall rolls around you’re already a student. Pretty keen trick. Thanks Colonel Dolan! Of course, this meant that I’d be going straight out of high school into college without a break. At least they had an Orientation Day for new students.

My Mom couldn’t get off work the day of the Orientation, so my Dad went with me to Tech and we gathered in an auditorium to hear a tired old message from some gentleman whose name eludes me now. The best part was that while we were run through the mill there was a special, separate orientation class for the parents…. basically a tour of the campus to help ease the minds of the people who would be paying gobs of money to send little Johnny and little Jane off to learn a lifelong trade.

I have to say that while I remember absolutely nothing of my own orientation tour of campus, my Dad’s tour sticks out like a scene from Forest Gump.

At some point my Dad’s group stopped at the Student Center cafeteria for a coffee break. Back then my Dad was a smoker and he’d stepped outside, away from the group, for a quick puff before the tour started back up. While he was outside a group had assembled inside and a man smoking nearby asked my Dad if he was going with them over to the Aeronautics Building. With nothing better to do, my Dad put out his cigarette and joined the crowd. As they walked toward the older part of campus my Dad began talking to the guys in the group. At some point he noticed that there weren’t any women in the crowd, perhaps making the assumption that they’d gone off to see the women’s dorms. And it wasn’t so much a crowd as it was a group. Maybe a dozen or so men. The group headed into the old Aeronautics Building and were given a great tour, from the classrooms to the aircraft models to some kind of vertical wind tunnel down in the basement. A WIND TUNNEL. How cool a tour was that?

My Dad was having a blast. He was really getting along with these guys, they really liked the bolo necktie he’d made for himself and were chatting like they’d all known each other for years. Then the group headed over toward the Alumni Building. Inside they were greeted with a specially prepared dinner complete with table cloths, silverware and an inspiring movie about aircraft and space and….

…and somewhere along about here my Dad realized that he’d left the Student Center with the wrong tour group. This wasn’t a bunch of parents, this was probably a group of Aeronautical Engineering Alumni, enjoying some sort of special reunion event. And he was right in the middle of it.

I really haven’t wanted to ask too many details about what happened after he figured out what had happened, the version I have in my imagination is great and I don’t want facts getting in the way. I just like knowing that my Dad, someone who’d never had the means or the time/opportunity to attend college, got to be an Alumnus of Tech for a day.

Ha!! on you Ma Tech.

That’ll teach you to leave any of MY family unattended on campus.

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