I watched more than 600 students receive their diplomas yesterday at Southern University’s Baton Rouge campus. I looked at them and thought, there are probably 600 different stories about how each student arrived at his or her big day.
Here’s one that I know well: mine.
Through gifts, yard-cutting and other means, I scraped together $160 to pay for my first semester at Southern. I borrowed $600 from Louisiana National Bank to be divided into $300 per semester for clothes, books and other costs during my first year of study toward becoming a journalist.
I did not have a vehicle and did not live on the campus, so I would occasionally catch the city bus to campus, or I stood in the morning at the entrance to the interstate at Government Street to hitch rides. I wouldn’t try hitchhiking today.
After my freshman year, I decided I needed a car. I was not going to borrow another dime. Luckily, I landed two jobs for the summer.
From 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday, I worked at the LSU printing office. And from 4:30 p.m. to about 11 p.m., I worked at Jim Dandy Fried Chicken, within walking distance of LSU on Highland Road. That was an interesting job because one of the assistant managers on my shift was a Vietnam veteran who would duck into the freezer every day to smoke marijuana.
By summer’s end, I had saved enough money to buy a car plus pay for tuition and books. My two jobs ended, and I landed a job stocking groceries at Globe Supermarket. That was a five-day, 4 a.m. to 8 a.m. job, with a midnight to 8 a.m. shift once every two weeks when the supply truck came in.
For some strange reason, I would schedule 9 a.m. classes on at least two days a week. So, on those days, I would bring a small towel, soap, a T-shirt and a shirt with me. I would stop at a gas station near the corner of Scenic Highway and Harding Boulevard to freshen up. The female attendant was so accustomed to me that as I walked up, she would already have the key to the men’s room for me.
In my junior year, I got a paid position on the school newspaper. So, I was working at Globe’s and the school newspaper. Toward the latter part of my senior year, I got a Friday night job with this newspaper covering high school football and basketball games. Technically, I held three jobs at once.
Then, one day in August, right before my last semester in school, a co-worker and I were working extra hours when our supervisor fired us because he didn’t like the way we were joking with him. I didn’t think it was fair.
Even with the three jobs, I barely covered the expenses of my car note, car insurance, books, other college and personal stuff, and a girlfriend. Now, I had lost a big chunk of salary.
My last semester was in serious doubt.
Lo and behold, I found a couple of quick-pay jobs in time to fund my tuition. Under no circumstances was I going to seek another loan from the bank or a friend, or anyone.
By mid-November, I was getting by when I got a call from the same supervisor that fired me at Globe. He needed my co-worker and I immediately to handle the holiday rush.
I was back in business.
Then, in early December, one of my professors, a sports reporter at this newspaper, told me about a news reporter job opening at his sister newspaper, the State-Times. He thought I would be a good candidate.
After two interviews, I got the job, but it was not going to start until February.
So there I was at graduation day, with a job waiting and enough money in my pocket to buy Christmas gifts for my girlfriend and my family.
That’s my graduation story.
Oh, by the way, I quit the job at Globe’s a week before Christmas. I know that’s horrible, but I just had to do it. My old supervisor had earned it.
Edward Pratt, a former Advocate editor, is assistant to the chancellor for media relations at Southern University. His email address is email@example.com.