Friday, March 26, 2010

I'm a Southerner, and What of It?

Let's just get this out here in the open: rarely, if ever, do I make direct reference to my Alma Mater, but today I'm going to...I hold three degrees, one undergraduate and two graduate, from the University of (by God!) Kentucky. This whole flap about "smart kids" (Cornell) versus "dumb kids" (U.K.) really grated on my last nerve. U.K. was fourteenth in order of preference of the sixteen colleges and universities to which I was accepted...I was not there because I wanted to be there. I was there because they had offered me a full ride- and much to my horror, at the last possible moment, my parents informed me that they hadn't saved enough to cover the difference between my scholarships and the tuitions at the more elite schools to which I was accepted.

Add to this that I had just watched an elite school, The Johns Hopkins University, chew up and summarily spit out the boy I loved over the course of the preceding year and return him to me in tiny little fragments. It made me somewhat leery of heading east for school.

The hillbilly/dumb hick stereotype really puts a crease in my shorts. The week after I graduated from high school, I was quietly eating my hotdog at a cookout in Toledo, Ohio, when one of the other guests, a very gauche woman who'd just spent an inordinate amount of time braying about the exact cost of her new Movado watch to all assembled, said to me, "Oh, you have the cutest little Tobacco Road accent!" I rose from the table, dragging my sister behind me, hissing, "Madam, if you had read Erskine Caldwell, you would know that this is not a compliment." She had the gall to complain to our hostess, who incidentally has a PhD in literature. I won. I also walked out of that room a confirmed, card-carrying Southerner with that chip firmly planted on my shoulder. When this happened, I'd only been home from the senior trip to Florida for a couple of days, where I'd been asked repeatedly if we wore shoes on a regular basis (since we were, y'know, from KENTUCKY.)

When the media started painting U.K. as some kind of post-modern hillbilly black-hat in the NCAA basketball tournament, it got my attention. Just as all who wander are not lost, all who attend a state university are not mouth-breathing morons who couldn't get in anywhere else. As I posted in my Facebook status last night, "Cornell can kiss our collective Big Blue Butts." This is not because I care about U.K. basketball that much- it's because I AM one of The Smart Kids and I am an alumna, by default if not by choice. Education is what you, as the student, make of the opportunity at hand and what you do with it when the formal part of it concludes- not what's stamped on your diploma. In the end, you are a human, not a piece of paper or a college 'brand name'.

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