My dad wrote a nice long email today to correct many of the errors in my narrative of his life as a Harvard student. I found the details of his story fascinating. I give it to you in his words:
"My guidance counselor would have never suggested I consider an Ivy League school. He was more or less stunned I ended up there. The Dean of Freshmen at Harvard at the time was from Idaho. Every so often he would come to a few rural high schools in Idaho and try to find someone who would apply and who had a chance to be accepted. I do not know why he came to Meridian HS at the time as no one from Meridian had ever gone to Harvard. One Meridian student I knew who was two years older had gone to Columbia and as far as I know he was the only one who had gone to an Ivy League school until I went off to Harvard.
"It was announced over the intercom that a recruiter was here from Harvard and anyone interested could come down to the office and talk to him. I was the only student who showed up. He patiently explained to me how Harvard would pay me to come because my parents were so poor. I found this hard to grasp and he gave me an application. I filled out the application and then stopped because it asked me to write a 500 word essay. I was stymied by that.
"A few weeks later my Young Mens leader [a church group for teenage boys], a Stanford grad named Bob Woods, [who] would eventually become the dean of the business school at Memphis State and the Stake President of the Memphis Stake, found out from someone (possibly my mother) that I was "applying to Harvard." He had to come to my home to talk to me about it because I was not attending Young Mens [activities] and had not since I was about 13. He had a business partner who was a Yale grad and was trying to get a few Idaho kids to apply to Yale. Bob took me down to his office and I met this man. Yale did not require a 500 word essay and I filled out the application and sent it off.
"Your mother eventually found out from me that I had not sent in the Harvard application because of the essay. She got after me and I wrote an essay about the week I had spent on a psychiatric ward in California when I was visiting my sister who was a social worker there. Teresa helped me with the grammar and spelling so that it made sense (that was not how it was supposed to be) and I sent the application off just before the deadline.
"I actually was a good applicant (except for the essay part). I took the SATs and scored a 750 on the math portion and a 740 on the verbal portion. That actually put me in the highest one percent of college applicants who took these tests. Since I was from a rural HS and not a prep school and not even a school that had AP classes and had never even heard of the SATs before I took them, the admissions committee apparently rated me highly. I was also required to take at least 3 achievement tests. These were like AP tests and I had not had any AP classes. I got a 630 on the chemistry one (the equivalent of a 4 on the AP test), a 520 on the English one ( a 2 or 3 on the AP test), and a 790 on the US History one (a high 5). I was ranked 10th or 11th (out of 200) in our HS class academically. The one boy ahead of me went to the Naval Academy and the rest were all smart girls like your mom, who was co-valedictorian. My application also included my work history (I had an extensive one at that point). That was also unusual since I worked even during the school year.
"I never played HS baseball. I was a good basketball player but I stopped because I didn't like the coach. I had some great teachers who really supported me and wrote great recommendations for me. I was a Harvard National Scholar which is the highest award they give to incoming freshmen .
"I have a couple more things to say about the Dean of Freshmen. They did not actually pay for my travel to Harvard but he did somehow find out that I was staying in the dorms over the holidays because I did not have the money to go home. He showed up at my door with round trip tickets to and from Idaho and took me to the airport. When we were freshmen proctors we were supposed to be on the lookout for people like me. Harvard had a fund to help them out.
"The scholarship was supposed to be enough so you did not have to work while at school. I couldn't deal with that and got jobs anyway. I had extra time because I did not play any sports at Harvard. They were all too big and fast.
"I had a huge amount of academic catching up to do. My education was more like that of a ghetto kid. I had to start at the beginning level of everything. I got As in the beginning science classes but I was lucky to get Bs in everything else. But with your mother watching over and encouraging me my last two years I was able to get As pretty much in everything and actually graduate Magna Cum Laude with highest honors in my department (History of Science). I had a great expository writing teacher as a freshman and she got me to the point I could write a B paper. Teresa, though, got me so I could write an A paper and a "Highest Honors" thesis, something I had to do for my department.
"Your mother, by the way, got a number of A pluses at Harvard. I had never heard of such a thing!
"One last thing--I wanted to major in Chemistry at Harvard but to my dismay I found I was too far behind in the sciences to compete a chemistry major in the required 4 years. I did have the satisfaction of performing so well in organic chemistry that my professors nominated me to be a special tutor in organic chemistry at the Harvard Bureau of Study Counsel. This was the best paying job I ever had at Harvard and I am sure helped me get into medical school."
PG's commentary: Two super heroes stand out to me in this story. First, the Dean of Freshmen at Harvard, an Idaho boy who came back to his home state to search for kids whose lives he could change by sending them to Cambridge for an education. I love the image of him showing up on my dad's doorstep with round trip tickets home for Christmas. And the second, but most important hero of this story: my mother. Her hand in my father's many successes is, to me, a sweet and touching part of their love story.