“Do what’s right for you, as long as it don’t hurt no one.”
In honor of the 30th anniversary of Elvis’ disappearance, I offer the following homage to the King.
It is no secret that I failed out of college three times. Thank you to the University of Massachusetts for taking me back each time. My undergraduate years were seven of the best years of my life. Once I came back after the third flunk-out, I hadn’t really learned much from my mistakes, and I was well on the way to failing out for a fourth and final time.
Then I met Professor Karen List. She taught Journalism and the Law. I spent about five minutes in that class, and it struck me that my destiny was to be a First Amendment lawyer. I then engaged in a very uncharacteristic activity (for me). I started showing up for class. Of course, once I went back to my dorm, I didn’t exactly crack the books very often. There were a lot more fun extracurricular activities in which to engage.
Nevertheless, I was active and involved in class. Apparently Professor List saw some kind of intellect in me, and she really began to inspire the hell out of me. I had barely spoken in a class before that — but in Journalism and Law, I was constantly engaged.
Then I got a 37 on her first exam.
Professor List is not a large woman. Regardless, as I walked through Bartlett hall a few days later, she grabbed me by the lapel of my biker jacket (yeah, I was one of those), dragged me into her office, and she recited my own personal riot act. It went something like this:
I don’t know what the hell is wrong with you. You are one of the smartest students I’ve ever had, and you just got a 37 on my exam!
The words don’t communicate the rage that was in her eyes. I thought I was all bad ass with my mohawk and my biker jacket, but this 115 lb woman scared the shit out of me at that moment.
Now you get your head screwed on, start studying, and get As on the rest of the exams for the semester, and you will still get an A in this class.
Then it hit me… Professor List thought I was smart? I’m not 100% sure what motivated me at that point. It was mostly fear — fear that she would kick my ass if I didn’t get an A, fear that I would disappoint her if I didn’t get an A, and fear that if I didn’t get an A, I would prove her wrong, and most everyone else right.
I hit the books like a fiend. I got my A. In fact, I became a straight A student for the rest of my time at my beloved UMass, and for the next two years I took every class that Karen List taught.
After graduation, I spent the next three years wasting my time, working on tugboats, oil tankers, goofing off, wandering from one end of the planet to another. At some point, I wound up in Memphis, Tennessee, and went to Graceland.
While there, it occurred to me that I had to find my own TCB. Here I was, three years out of college (which took seven years) unemployed, and pretty much doing nothing with my life. It was fun, but Karen List didn’t drag me into her office that day so that I could do tequila shots in as many time zones as possible. As I drove down the highway, a story about a First Amendment issue came on the radio and it hit me — it was time to apply to law school and get my ass moving toward being a First Amendment lawyer.
I took the LSAT and did rather well. Karen was a natural choice to write a letter of recommendation. She told me that she had been wondering when I would take this step, and wrote a glowing letter of recommendation for me. Strangely enough, she included a post card in the envelope. The picture was that famous photo of Elvis shaking hands with Richard Nixon. Karen scribbled on it, “this should bring you good luck.”
Strange … she had no idea that I came up with this whole law-school idea while at Graceland. The story would be pretty cool if it ended there, but it doesn’t.
I applied to a lot of law schools. I had no idea what my chances were anywhere. I was certain that I would never get in to Georgetown. Nevertheless, I decided to apply there anyhow. My thought was that they would never accept me, but dammit, I was going to pay my sixty bucks to apply and make them read about me.
The offers of acceptance began rolling in, but I got wait listed at Georgetown. I thought little of it until August 15, 1997 when I got a call from the Georgetown Admissions Office asking me, “are you still interested in attending Georgetown.” My answer “um, yeah, majorly.” The reply “thanks, we’ll let you know.”
That was it? “Thanks, we’ll let you know?”
The following Monday, I got a call informing me that the Admissions committee had met over the weekend and I was in. I almost fell over. I’m thinking, I flunked out of college three times and I got in to Georgetown Law School? What a riot. Then I realized, the admissions committee met on August 16 – 20 years to the day that Elvis disappeared.
It gets better.
I pack what I can, fly to Washington, throw my suitcase in my hastily arranged accommodations, and then walk out the door looking for the first bar I can find. I walk into the Irish Times, and right there in all of its glory was a huge copy of that very same picture of Elvis shaking hands with Nixon.
It gets better…
Fast forward virtually a decade. I was teaching my first law school class, copyright law, at Barry University. If the class had less than 10 students, they were going to cancel the class. I only had 9 on my roster. Nevertheless, I went off and taught my first day of class. I happen to think (and have been told) that I did a great job that day. However, I knew that the class was likely to be canceled if another student didn’t sign up.
The following class, I came in and counted 9 heads. I was pretty dejected. My first chance to teach law school, and I was going to be cut from the team because not enough students wanted to take copyright law.
Fifteen minutes later, in walks this kid, Mike.
“Hey, y’all mind if I add your class?” I was overjoyed! I had my 10th! I was going to get a chance to teach!
Well, I’d be lying to you if I didn’t tell you that Mike was from, wait for it… Tupelo, Mississippi.
A few weeks later, I told the class the story above (sans the part about the class nearly being canceled). The next class period, Mike shows up with another picture — of his grandmother and young Elvis Presley (when he was about 12). Apparently Mike’s grandmother and Elvis’ parents were neighbors and friends.
I wonder what great things will happen to me today.