Apathy and death among Hofstra University’s Class of 1982.
Yesterday’s mail brought a big white envelope from Hofstra University, my alma mater. May 20 was the 25th anniversary of my graduating class, the Class of 1982. Although I was tempted to make the cross-country trek to Long Island, NY from my home in Arizona, I’d scheduled a helicopter rides gig for May 19 in Yarnell and preferred to do that. I’m glad I did.
A few months before the event, Hofstra’s Alumni Association sent out a survey form requesting bios from class members. Proud of what I’ve done since my college years, I promptly filled mine out and returned it to the school. They wanted a digital photo to go with it, but I forgot to go online (as they requested) and upload a suitable image.
My College Years
Understand this: my college years were among the most difficult yet enjoyable years of my life. Difficult primarily because of the expense. Hofstra, a private school, was getting about $120 per credit in those days. While I know that’s nothing compared to today’s tuitions, that $1800 to $2200 per semester tuition bill (plus books plus room and board) was killing me. The deal I cut with my parents was that each of them (they were divorced) would cough up 1/3 and I’d put in the final third. I consider myself lucky for being able to get that much from them. I also consider myself lucky for getting two scholarships that knocked more than $1000 off the annual tuition fee. So yes — I only had to come up with about $1200 a year. But I had to work two part-time minimum wage jobs (at less than $3/hour, if I recall) to make that and the money I needed to keep my car running and food in my mouth. I was 20 when I graduated and, by that point, I’d already worked harder than anyone else I knew.
(I was also incredibly thin at one point, weighing in at only 105 pounds. I ate little and worked hard and simply couldn’t keep the weight on. At 5’8″ tall, I looked terrible — absolutely skeletal. It took the school’s meal plan and those delicious hot rolls at dinner to fatten me back up.)
I’m not complaining about the hard work or financial situation. I believe in working hard to get ahead. And 25 years later, I still believe it. Too many people are looking for a free ride. Too many people spend more effort trying to get away with as little real work as possible than actually doing the work they’re being paid to do. And then they wonder why they’re not getting anywhere in life, why the promotions are always going to someone else, or why they’re first in line for layoff when their company starts sending jobs to India and Pakistan.
I also think that everyone should be a little needy at least once in their life. Back in those days, having $20 in my pocket made me rich. The money I made went to my tuition bill, to feed myself (until I got on that meal plan and my parents picked up 2/3 the cost), and to put gas in my car. (I drove a 1970 VW bug and gas cost 70¢ per gallon.) Most of my friends were in a similar situation, although I think I was the only one footing part of the bill for my education. We learned how far you could stretch a dollar and how important it was not to waste money on things we didn’t really need. I think that’s a lesson many of today’s kids could learn from. When you have to earn every dollar you spend, that dollar becomes a lot more valuable.
As for my college years being the most enjoyable of my life — well, that might be a bit of an exaggeration, but it’s mostly true. It gave me my first taste of real freedom — and real responsibility. I learned how to have fun and take care of the things I had to do to stay in school, get decent grades, and earn enough money to get by. I had a lot of friends — mostly people like me. I never joined a sorority, but I did become part of the yearbook staff as a photographer. I spent my off-hours during the day in the school’s game room, shooting pool with some friends and becoming a reasonably good pinball player. In the evening, we’d head over to a local bar, which had excellent french onion soup for just a buck and cheap beer on Thursday nights. We also hit the Ambassador Diner in Hempstead periodically for greasy but excellent batter dipped onion rings. Almost all of my friends were guys, but there was no sex between us. (I’ve always been “one of the guys” and I still am.) I dated two different guys while in college and, unlike so many of the girls at Hofstra for their “MRS” degree, wound up single when I graduated at the age of 20 with a BBA in accounting. That was fine with me.
Affection for My Alma Matter? I Don’t Think So.
I never really felt any affection for Hofstra. It seemed like every time I turned around, they had their hands out for money. I nearly got kicked out for late payment of tuition twice, yet they never failed to send requests for donations to my family. I get those requests now. They come to my house with full-color booklets about the newest on campus building and latest event, along with a summary of what the entire alumni student body has been up to — well, at least those members who bothered to provide updates. I used to provide updates once in a while, announcing a new book or providing information about my latest endeavor. They even featured my helicopter charter business in one issue. But the way I saw it, I struggled enough to pay them when I was a student and they never cut me any slack when I had trouble coming up with the dough. I didn’t owe them a thing.
I’m Not the Only One Who Doesn’t Care. But at Least I’m Still Breathing.
But when the reunion material arrived, I decided to fill it out and return it. I was curious about my classmates, curious about what they’d been up to all these years. I even toyed with the idea of blowing off my helicopter gig and going out for the reunion.
But when the reunion materials arrived today, I was glad I’d made the decision I’d made. Accompanying the “sorry we missed you” letter and donation request form was a thin booklet titled, Congratulations to the Class of 1982 on your 25th Anniversary. In it were photos as “bios” from 59 students (including me). I’d known two of them well — one of them is my step cousin. The photos were right out of the yearbook, with current photos added for the folks who had bothered to send them. Few had. Most bios lacked any amount of imagination, simply stating what degree the person had earned during his stay at Hofstra and whether he had gone on to earn additional degrees. Marriages to college sweethearts were mentioned more than a few times. Women were sure to mention how many kids they had. It was pretty boring stuff; only about 5 people wrote bios that actually brought readers up to date. (I was one of them, as you probably guessed.)
What was more tragic was the “In Memoriam” page after the bios. It listed 54 classmates that are no longer walking on this earth. 54! Sheesh! Almost as many dead ones as ones who bothered to respond to the reunion notice. And remember, this is a 25-year anniversary — not a 50-year. Most of my classmates are under 50. That means that at 54 of them died before their 50th birthday.
Now I don’t know how many people were in the class of 1982. I know that the School of Business, which was my slot at the graduation ceremonies, had hundreds of students in it. There had to be at least 2,000 students in the entire class. And the alumni association got reunion responses for just 113 of them — 54 of which were dead. Can you say apathy? And I thought I was alone in my feelings — or lack thereof — for the school.
And how many people actually showed up for the May 20 party? I hope they didn’t rent a big hall.