For the past 20 years, there has been one constant in my life, through all the transitions of adulthood. There was always UCLA. I’ve been there longer than half my life, at this point. At 17 years old, I visited the campus for the first time, during February of my senior year. I had already applied, sight unseen, along with all the other schools i thought might also be good for me (for various reasons), including UC Berkeley, Tufts, Brown, Washington University in St. Louis, Northwestern, and Yale. I applied to them all, even though my high school guidance counselor thought I didn’t have a chance with many of them (what the hell, by the way?). And then in February, I went on a college tour with my dad and stepmother to visit the places to which I had applied.
We started with Tufts. I loved Boston from the moment I landed there (it was my first time), but hadn’t applied to Harvard out of loyalty to my family’s Yale connections. So we left the city and visited Tufts, and I found that as a high school senior, I knew more about the class I visited than many of the college students. They seemed slower than me, and the campus seemed very small, so I crossed that one off of the list.
Next was Yale. I spent the night there with some girls in their dorm hall, and was intimidated by everyone’s intensity. It was also 30 degrees below zero with the wind chill. But I was just excited and happy to be there, and did love the campus, and knew it would be a challenge. Plus, they had a world-class reputation for theater. So it stayed on the list. Then we visited Brown in Rhode Island. It felt like a small town, but an incredibly fun, funky, intelligent one. It stayed on the list, too, even a bit higher than Yale because it seemed more nurturing and less intimidating. Plus, the entire ethos of creating one’s own major strongly appealed to me.
Then came Northwestern, which was beautiful and had huge, welcoming dorm rooms, but was knocked off of the list the second I heard on the tour that all freshman take the same courses. I strike my own path – this was definitely not for me. We skipped visiting Washington University, since I had visited St. Louis many times – my family’s from there, and I was born there. I felt like I knew what it would be like; it was safe.
On a trip later that month, I visited UC Berkeley, and didn’t see what all the fuss was about. It seemed dingy and uninviting, and even though my boyfriend at the time dreamed of going there, I couldn’t see myself there at all. And then, on a 75 degree February day in 1993, I visited UCLA.
I fell in love completely and instantly with the campus. It was the perfect mix of old and new, of world class scholarship and exciting new opportunities. I loved Los Angeles, too. I loved that a movie world premiere was held in Westwood on the day that I visited, and I watched Clint Eastwood get out of his car for In the Line of Fire. The campus was a dreamworld, and I wanted to be part of it. I got into every college I had applied to, and there was no doubt that I would choose UCLA.
And I always thought I would leave. I went to Washington DC for a time, and thought I would go back. But I had met the man who would become my first husband, and he didn’t want to leave LA. So we stayed, and after a couple of months (basically, just one summer) of turmoil after my graduation, both ended up with jobs at UCLA. Over the next twelve years, we both stayed there. He worked, being promoted a number of times. I worked and earned two graduate degrees. And at the end of it, we had grown apart and separated – the same month I left him, I graduated with my PhD and he was laid-off and left UCLA.
I moved back to LA to be closer to the campus and cut my commute, and for the past four years, have created my own career path in the University. It has cocooned me, sheltered me, absolutely been a major part of turning me into the scholar and poet and woman I am today.
But yesterday, the cocoon cracked open, just a bit, and sunlight started to shine in. Because I was told I’m no longer able to forge my own path here, I have to conform to the path I’m supposed to be on. It’s looking more and more like it’s time for me to find a new path, now that I have a strong partner to walk with me wherever I might want to go (for my faithful readers, you know who I mean).
After 20 years in my cocoon, it might just be time to fly.