BACK TO THE FUTURE- Reminiscences Of A “Virginia Gentleman”

| March 8, 2011 | Comments (0)

Looking back at my undergraduate days at  “The University” – everybody, at least everybody in Virginia was supposed to know that the one and only “University” was UVa – I can honestly say that I remember very little of those years in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Leafing through the University of Virginia almuni magazine, I am led to believe that life in this quaint college town was a cherished chapter in one’s path to growing up; and that equipped with the lessons learned in Thomas Jefferson’s enlightened institution, we “Cavaliers” had moved on and conquered the world.

I wish I could agree, but I simply do not have such halcyon recollections. Perhaps it was because I was drunk much of the time I was there.

Let me say, loud and clear, that these words are not a regretful confession of  a sadder but  wiser old man, ashamed of a wasted youth. Far from it! My bleary-eyed, Bourbon-soaked stumble through several liquid years in the early 60s that somehow ended in my possessing a Bachelor of Arts diploma were actually a brilliant prognostication of things to come.

In the past two weeks, no less revered a publication than the “Gray Lady” herself, the New York Times, has published articles which inform us that:

       – Education is NOT the key to economic success. Lawyer-haters rise up and rejoice!  Where once batteries of legal eagles and their flunkies were needed to sniff out judicial precedent and make heads and tails of  arcane technicalities of the law, today computers can accomplish these tasks in a trice. Rather it is in the so-called lower jobs like janitorial services that high tech autmomation cannot replace human effort. 

       – Students today, compared with a generation ago, study 50% less.

       – A good memory is no longer crucial to excelling in life since we now have the internet and Google.

Looking back to the dawn of the 60s, I now realize what a genius I was. I NEVER studied and seldom went to class. And what memory I had was drowned and pickled in a variety of alcoholic concoctions and hangovers.The key to success in those days was “notes”; written summaries of lectures given by tenured professors whose lectures never varied from year to year. Fraternity houses were repositories of the word passed down by the University’s hoary dons.

 The trick was to familiarize one’s self thoroughly with these lecture summaries – to the point of memorizing selected tidbits –  so that in the final examination for a course, and the exams never changed from year to year, the examinee could throw back quotes that a professor might have uttered in the lecture hall. 

I recall once approaching my favorite professor at the podium after one of his rousing lectures on European history  (“….and WOLVES roamed the streets of Brittany!…” ). As we spoke, he fingered what appeared to be the Dead Sea Scrolls; crisp,  curling yellow sheets of paper which were, in fact, his lecture notes scrawled decades before our encounter.

In the final exam, among other bons mots, I threw back his spine-chilling description of lupine stalkers in nothern France and received an “A” for my efforts. In the margin of my exam was written his personal praise, “Mr. Oglesby, you do have an excellent way with words that brings European history very much to life!” As I recall, Professor Hale was then 70 years-old. The dear old gent had apparently forgotten that he had been dealing in wolves ever year  for nearly half a century!

What the “University” did teach us as we ran the gamut of beer kegs, mint juleps and drunken “all-nighters” along fraternity row, was something that didn’t even have a name then but which today is called networking.

Networking today is regarded as a necessary part of upward  professional mobility and social advancement where the workplace and private lives merge into one squishy, ruthless and, to some, cloying effort. In 2011  networking is for all practical purposes a rather democratic pursuit. Anybody with guts and savvy can join in the fun. When I first learned it in 1960 it was anything but.  Not white, gentile and moneyed? Don’t bother to apply !

As beautiful as the “University” may have been to the eye when the panorama of its neo-classical architecture and verdant lawns were appreciated, it was an ugly place that excluded non-whites and for the most part non-males (women were only permitted in the nursing school).

Some ten years after I left UVa, the time-honored dress code of coats and ties on campus was dropped and traditionalists bemoaned the abandonment of yet another hallowed  Virginia tradition.

Today the campus may look a bit less sartorially ” kempt” than it did in the “good ole days”, but then again African-American spectators at Charlottesville football games   are no longer limited to seating in the end-zones of the field and faces of all colors now enlighten quadrangles where once only “white gentlemen” trod.

We may have stumbled to our graduation in an over-privileged, racist environment, but we sure knew how to network!


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