A rational person doesn’t believe in destiny. There’s no pre-determined outcome. There’s no sequence of events that a person will go through to reach the place he or she was supposed to reach.
No, events happen and they lead to other ones. Time is linear and, of course, prior events can have an effect on what happens next. But the next event is never a foregone conclusion. The protagonist can alter the future by changing the present. There’s an infinite amount of possibilities.
Serendipity is a funny thing, though. If you’re in the right place at the right time, things kind of just work out.
Many of the crucial moments of my life have happened just like that: Completely by coincidence. Usually these moments came from a friend of mine having planned to do something – prepared, orchestrated and executed on a plan – when I come waltzing on to the scene at the very last moment, ride along and benefit from him being on the ball. Lucky duck!
It’s comical. But that has happened to me a lot, and it’s the reason why I not only went to UConn for college, but why I even ended up going to college in the first place.
Let me explain:
I was a terrible student in high school.
I’m understating that. I was a shit head in high school. More on that later.
I had good grades, but never had to really apply myself. Since I didn’t need to focus on schoolwork, I focused on being a nuisance. I graduated top 10% in my class and spent more time in the office/in-house suspension than anyone who was deemed a “smart kid” in our high school. I did very well on the SAT, but hadn’t prepare for it and really only took it because everyone else I knew was taking it (and I was able to get a financial aid waiver for the test).
College was never a real priority for me in high school. I didn’t have a “dream school” or anything like that. You know how some people are like:
“IF I DON’T GET IN TO STANFORD I’LL ABSOLUTELY DIEEEEEE.”
Not me, man. I was going to back in to this college thing if I was going to do it at all.
My high school guidance counselor (what’s up Miss Willard!) told me that I should “at least” apply to a couple schools. “You’re too smart to not go,” she would say in our weekly meetings.
Fine. I didn’t want to disappoint her.
The first one fell into my lap. A division III school in Connecticut had reached out to me about pioneering a swim team at their school (I was a tenth of a second shy of qualifying for state competition in the 50-freestyle my senior year. Another story for another time).
My friend Dave was looking at the same school to play soccer. He was going with his mom to visit the school one Saturday and he asked me if I wanted to go.
I piggy-backed on his campus visit (thanks Mrs. D!) to meet with their athletic folks and whatnot. That visit will go down in history as the only college tour I ever went on. The campus was nice, I guess. I really didn’t have anything to compare it to.
Since it was a D-III school, it couldn’t offer athletic scholarships, per se. They assured me, however, that if I wanted to go there, they would make it affordable. I did the necessary paperwork to have my application fee waived and applied.
I was already late in the application process, and needed a second school to apply to to fill my Willard quota. I asked my friend Mitchell where he was applying.
“Dude, I already got into UConn!”
Shit. Way to go, overachiever. What day is it?
“I think late admission is still open, though. You should apply.”
I applied to get the application fee waived, put together my references and a college essay (which I wrote while skipping high school English that day, hey Ms. Nunes!) and sent it to UConn just before the deadline.
And then I just waited.
A few months had gone by and I had gotten letters of acceptance from both schools. As it turns out, getting into UConn that year was the toughest it had ever been in the history of the university. I wouldn’t have applied if I had known that.
I assumed I was going to the D-III school to swim. That was the “plan.”
“But it was nice to have UConn as a back-up, though,” 17-year-old, dipshit Alex thought to himself.
I started looking at the actual cost of going to either school and was shocked. Even with the generous compensation package from the D-III school, I still had to make up more money than I could even fathom. UConn’s compensation package wasn’t as good, but, coupled with federal grants and scholarships I had coming my way, left me with a slightly smaller bill.
There wasn’t any money from home. And I would never ask. I didn’t want to take out a loan. UConn was cheaper, though. If I was going to go, it had to be there.
This was March 2006. I was 1/3 go to UConn, 2/3 not go to college at all.
My friends – Mitchell, Randall, Rob, Dave and John – and I were going to the Connecticut high school boy’s basketball all-star game in Hartford to watch our team’s star, Tyrone “Julio” Flemming, play against the best players in the state. Julio was incredible. Dude was 6′ and change, long, had great handle, could shoot from anywhere on the court and could literally jump out of his shoes. He was going to put on a one hell of a show.
Also there that evening was Doug Wiggins, a stand-out guard from East Hartford.
Julio and Dougie were on opposing teams for the match-up, and they put on a show going right at each other. It was like a game of “anything you can do, I can do better.” Dunk after dunk. Outrageous shots and ankle-breaking drives to the rim. It was unbelievable.
At some point in the second half, I turned to Mitchell and said something along the lines of, “Damn, dude. Dougie can ball.”
Mitchell nodded and said something to the extent of, “Yeah, man. He’s going to UConn next year. Kid can play! ”
I was probably running high from the adrenaline, but I looked at Mitchell and said,
“If he’s playing at UConn next year, I’m going to UConn.”
And so I did.
I then, of course, had to figure out how to pay for the whole thing. I had to apply for what they refer to as a “student loan.” It’s the equivalent of a mortgage for 17-year-olds.
My friend Derek (who’s freshmen year dorm room was host to my first and only “unofficial” UConn visit my senior year of high school) was going through the financial aid process at the same time and offered to help me out. I remember spending several afternoons after school at his house, usually with his Dad reviewing Sallie Mae forms with me one-on-one until I had the necessary funds to go to school (thanks Uncle Frank!).
I was officially a UConn Husky, as a letter from the admissions office confirmed a couple weeks later.
There you have it. Seventeen-year-old, dipshit Alex has managed to back his way in to higher education. And, as they say, “the rest is history.”
I moved in to UConn that fall and I never really left. I met some of my very best friends over the following four years, and grew even closer to friends from high school. I grew up infatuated with UConn athletics, but being a student brought it to another level entirely. I had season football tickets for 7 years straight until I moved to California. I camped out for basketball games, tailgated football games in the snow, rain and freezing cold, and drove with my friends across the country to go to bowl games.
I pulled all-nighters. I smoked, drank, did drugs, had sex, lived off Ramen, chicken pot pies, pizza and wings, skipped class, had a fake ID, and partied my face off for four years.
I also fell in love, grew into an (almost) adult and learned more about myself during my time in Storrs than I could have ever imagined. I graduated with a BA in journalism and a BA in political science with a GPA of 3.4 and 3.7 in my majors, respectively. I was Dean’s List in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences twice and was part of the very beginning of a new era of digital journalism at UConn (more on that later).
I never came home. UConn was home.
My career in journalism happened entirely by accident. “Pre-journalism” was meant to be a placeholder until I found something else. Hell, I almost went to law school (I’ll get to that).
During my senior year in high school, several people in my life were part of seemingly meaningless but ever-important moments that changed my direction. Miss Willard leveled with me and made me at least apply. Dave and his mother generously took me along for a college visit (Dave ended up going there). Mitchell encouraged me to apply to UConn.
Dougie put on a dunk show one night in Hartford and convinced me it was worth taking out the loan to go see him play for four years (he didn’t last much more than a year as a Husky, but that’s a different story. Much respect for where he’s at now).
Derek and his dad graciously helped me get my finances straight in order to go. And there’s dozens more that I haven’t mentioned that played a role at that juncture in my life.
Serendipity. Destiny. I don’t know. Connecting the dots is easier looking backwards. I was so passive during my senior year that it’s hard to argue that I was the protagonist working to alter his path. But, my future was undeniably shaped by the events that year.
My brain rationalizes. My heart romanticizes.
One thing I know for sure is this: I didn’t get here alone. I’ve been lucky – fortunate – to have been surrounded by such great people that have helped me along the way and have asked for nothing in return. I am forever grateful.