Some time ago, the University of Arizona asked its Alumni: “What does being a Wildcat for life mean to you?”
And I wrote that being a Wildcat is somewhat the essence of who I am and I have truly been devoted to “thy colors red and blue” all my life, thanks to my mother.
Let me explain. My mother graduated from Howard University in Washington D.C. and shortly afterwards she contracted TB and moved to Tucson for her health as so many people did then, back in the 30’s. Accustomed to the rich cultural life she enjoyed at Howard and in growing up in Pittsburgh, PA, Tucson took some getting used to. But down the street there stood the U which she embraced through and through and I was introduced to the place while still nursing at her breast.
Now, the institution back then was a little heavy on Yee! Ha! for a young city woman’s tastes but it had what her soul needed as she embarked on raising a son: concerts where she could expose me to world class musicians; art shows where I could learn to see in a variety of ways; dance recitals where I could experience poetry in motion; plays and discussions that might help me understand the range of human emotions.
And sports. One of my favorite pastimes was riding my bike through the campus stalking the superstar jocks of my youth so they could deify the scraps of paper I stuck in their faces to sign. I was in the Knothole Gang at all the football games. Several of my heroes are in the school’s athletic hall of fame and back then I had no idea that someday I would be spoken of in the same breath as them. Being a Wildcat for life in that regard is, indeed, special to me.
My mother and I were Wildcats to the bone. The university was like our second home. My mother taught me one of life’s great lessons right outside what is now Centennial Hall, a lesson as profound as any bit of knowledge I might have gained years later as a student there working towards the B.S. Degree I received in 1960.
I was grade school age and I was expressing my displeasure with all the highbrow vocabulary and themes and ideas some world class lecturer at the university’s old Sunday Evening Forum had just given forth that had flown far above and beyond my Superman and Batman comics mentality.
So my mother said to me: “You’d be surprised at what you might understand if you’d just sit still and listen quietly.” And for some reason those words resonated with me, maybe because it was stated so simply, so free of exaggerated adult cliches like: “It’s good for you,” or the “It will stunt your growth” kind of declarations parents feel obligated to make when they want to deter a child from experiencing something that is deemed harmful. I actually got to where I looked forward to listening to the likes of Walter White, a Harlem Renaissance author and leader of the NAACP, or Ralph Bunche who dealt with human rights internationally, or Martin Luther KIng before he had reached the pinnacle of his fame when I was in my late teens about a year short of becoming an “official” Wildcat, if you will.
When I arrived at the U of A my freshman year the school was already a big part of my history. I was a Wildcat of long standing. The school had already inspired my heart and soul and fueled my curiosity about life’s mysteries and possibilities. The school had already given me a heads up as to who I am as a human being.
But there was one magnificent professor, Dr. Milo K. Blecha, of the College of Education, who helped refine this old Wildcat. He made me the educator I was to become, helping me realize that one can’t very well motivate learners if one isn’t excited about learning and willing to learn alongside one’s students him or herself. And years after retiring I still find myself turning kids on to learning, to life, helping them rely on their creative imaginations to analyze and understand their world.
So I guess what being a Wildcat for life essentially means to me is I’m a lifelong learner and a lifelong promoter of learning and no other aspects of life could ever mean more to me.