Saturday, June 04, 2011

day 15

Walk this Wing 
(...or how a fantasy almost got me rejected by Harvard)

Etsy Artist Vintage Boardwalk Sign
When I was student at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School, I worked for a professor whose specialty was labor and government relations. After receiving an A in his class, he offered me a job grading exams for his Harvard University Extension course. 

 I recall sitting on his office floor going over the comments I had made painstakingly and the grades I was suggesting.  In preparation for our meeting, I had reviewed all the reading students were assigned, then pored through each of their examination booklets, reading their short answers and essays.

One evening, after a particularly long session where we had locked horns on grades, me always wanting to give more Ds than Cs, when the blue books were piled high in stacks on his desk, he peered at me over his glasses. He then shook his head. 

"And to think they almost didn't take you."

"What?," I asked, uncertain if I had heard what I thought I'd heard.

"They almost didn't take you."

My heart sank in that way where you imagine someone else is doing your breathing, and you are merely watching.

Apparently, that year my professor had sat on the admissions committee. One of the questions, applicants were asked was what career dream you'd contemplated as a youth but had since abandoned. I  wrote about fantasizing  being a wing walker

As a young girl, I had once seen pictures of women in tights, walking the edges of airplane wings. My father took me to the public library where I could find vintage photographs and books. 

As I packed my knapsack, all I could think was, I had just finished a two year job in a juvenile court program, where I'd singlehandedly researched and edited a guide to neighborhood services for troubled teens. So, I am not certain why I didn't say I had wanted to be a Supreme Court Justice and work toward a more equitable justice system. Or better yet end cancer, but I did not. Nor did  I say I wanted to swim with dolphins in sunny Belize on an ecological journey, because truthfully, I was a lousy swimmer; science often alluded me. I still had nightmares of my high school Chemistry teacher, an Oxford graduate on travel visa who spoke tersely at the slightest provocation and sweat profusely through all her blouses.

I think I took the question to heart. The way a child, when asked, "What do you want Santa to bring you for Christmas?" says, "Candy and toys" --not "Underwear, galoshes and itchy woolen mittens!"  Absent political savvy, it was what I had fantasized most. Fierce air on my face, tiptoeing the ledge. US flags waving upon our landing.

"This one guy--old guard, he was adamant," my professor said as I sat stunned, large-eyed. He said, 'I know she has an excellent academic record. I know she went to one of our finest schools but is she a serious candidate. Is she really serious? Wing walking?'"

"Boy, you proved him wrong huh?"

"I guess," I said. That night, I walked through icy sleet, a schlep from Cambridge to Somerville, past Chang Feng which served  the most fiery Kung Pao in town, across the train tracks and up the hill where I lived with two other girls. At the moment I placed my key in the lock, I realized the dime on which my life had turned, and the Professor and I never mentioned wing walking again.

Wanda ;-)

Copyright, Wanda Fleming 2011


SisterBatik said...

Great writing : ) I love reading experiences like yours.

I am following you through the EBT - come and say hi:)

Barbara wamsly said...

don't give up your dream. After receiving my MPA from JFK in 1985, I went to the local small airport and at the age of 42 learned to fly a plane only a few years younger (1949 Taylorcraft tail dragger, no electronics). Tomorrow I will be 66 and I have just added to my bucket list to ride a jet ski . I think from 42 on I relearned how to have the wonderful dreams and courage of youth.

Wanda Fleming said...

Fantastic...I love that so much Barbara, and I want to fly too.. That's inspiring!!

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