1969: Onto Yet Even Higher Education
I don’t know how or why I was ever accepted at any medical school because instead of listing a litany of extracurricular activities, I was a student without portfolio. The dearth of substance was so poor that Columbia University, a facility that prided itself on accepting “well rounded” students who for example could also sing, dance, act or play the violin, rejected my application outright without offering a personal interview.
The only factors explaining my eventual acceptance anywhere were some behind the scenes influence by my father, the story I came up with in the interviews I did get, and the theory of relativity.
Once again, reaching the interview stage is what really makes or breaks an applicant’s chances of finally getting in. It’s like the quarter finals of a sports title; where at that final goal-line push, I was invited to interview at Syracuse, Tufts, and Tulane.
My father, who graduated from Tufts Dental School, always donated a small sum to the alumni fund, but not enough for them to roll out a red carpet. He also had a close friend from his training days who had gone on to become the Chief of Radiology at Tulane University. In relative terms, I was a student of the Vietnam protest era making this the background that cast the proverbial die:
- Half of the College graduates had been war protesters.
- My family had an infinitely small legacy at Tufts University.
- My father’s friend agreed to personally interview me at Tulane.
- Syracuse was a total crapshoot.
- Columbia deserved a modicum of revenge, to be exacted at some future date.
The interviews all took the same track: raised eyebrows about a very poor academic sophomore year, a great recovery after the fact, and queries about a dearth of extracurricular activities. I fluffed up my stint at the radio station, had been on the staff of the literary magazine and one or two other clubs but omitted having briefly joined the radical Students for a Democratic Society. Also, omitting a few episodes of LSD, mescaline or marijuana use; I did not list these as having participated in National drug trials. They didn’t ask, so I didn’t tell.
I used the ploy of the Prodigal Son, who had “wasted his substance with riotous living.”
My confession consisted of having been a misled, socialist, profligate hippie who had come to his senses, and having disavowed Communism, had turned his life around, and seen light of a calling to higher education with a sincere dedication to healing the sick and the lame.
Not at all being a lie that I wanted to become a physician; it was truthfully the only avocation I had ever pursued, thus making it easily believable for me to plead the usual epithets of sincerely wanting to use a career in Medicine to better serve humanity.
In relative terms, my cause was likely supported by the Viet Nam war having caused many more academic souls beside my own to become laid waste, thus making me look reasonably good in comparison.
Syracuse rejected me. So what? The second the jet landed and encountering the frigid air whipping off the tarmac from across the barren wasteland tundra otherwise known as Upstate New York, I wanted to turn around, get back in my seat and be a “no show” at the interview.
The place gave me the cosmic jitters, while the cold weather presaged how my application had been viewed or how badly my interview must have gone. I suppose my indifferent lack of enthusiasm and luke-cold attitude must have been quite transparent; because I knew before I left that I had tanked it like a slowly sinking fish turd in a still pond.
Being a bit more enthusiastic for the next rounds of one on one encounters as well as having a better practiced story, I must have interviewed better. This combined with the fact of my father’s inside connection at Tulane as well as his legacy at Tufts, I was accepted at both. With a thinly stacked deck, and a reasonably good story, two out of three major medical schools had decided I deserved a chance to prove myself.
It was a miracle, because now a heretofore hapless mendicant, possibly headed for a deal with the devil in Viet Nam, was now back in the driver’s seat with the luxury of rejecting one of the schools. I was out of the fire and back into the frying pan.
It is a definitive fact that the sum of numerous little things in life add up to make the whole; while there is a very thin line separating success from failure.
It is also true that in making speeches or telling stories, yarns, jokes, or even tall tales that practice does go a long way in making it all perfect.
Woodie Allen was probably correct when he said that 80% of success in life is just showing up. The rest of the 20% validates once again that the age-old axiom holds true:
It is not necessarily what you do or what you did.
What really counts is the story you come up with to explain it all away.
This brother or yours was dead and is alive again. He was lost and now he is found.
Painting by Bartolome Esteban Murillo