& For about a half-century now, I’ve been fibbin’ to a bunch of folks – you among ‘em, probably — and I want to set the record straight.
I’ve been telling you that I never graduated from college, never got a diploma. It turns out that I was wrong. I believed what I was saying, though, so I guess it really wasn’t a fib, just an inaccuracy in the world of numbers. I’ve never been fond of numbers.
If I’d have been normal, which I’m not, I would have walked off with a sheepskin in 1960, four years after I put on a beanie at the University of Miami. But, after three semesters, several thousand miles on water skis, an equivalent number of gallons of beer and a less-than-stellar academic record, my Pop (a numbers guy) concluded that his money was being poured down a South Florida rathole and, intelligent fellow that he was, summoned me back to Colorado. “Get a job, or pay for your own damn education,” he said. There weren’t many jobs for water skiing instructors in Denver, so I chose the latter option. Off to Boulder, where in-state students were gouged a tuition of $100 per semester and the skiing was on the snow. I somehow found the money for tuition and a kindly registrar found a reason to breeze past my not-quite-average grade-point average. I enrolled at the University of Colorado.
That was in 1958. Details of the ensuing decade, memorable as they are, will be included in my forthcoming, still-to-be-written book. I already have the title, thanks to my old friend Pat Young. At some point during those years of on-again-off-again attempts at getting enough credit hours for a degree, Pat said “write a book, Bob. Title it ‘My First Ten Years as an Undergraduate.’”
Throughout the Sixties, I’d been reporting and writing for United Press International and attending, on occasion, classes at CU’s downtown Denver “campus,” which consisted of one building, situated between Lawrence and Arapahoe streets. (Some of us students called it the University of Colorado between Lawrence and Arapahoe. We told people we attended UCLA.) In 1967, I took a leave from UPI and buckled down to finish college. By the spring of ’68, thanks to the academic support from J-school Dean James Brinton and matrimonial support from a lovely and beautiful and intelligent and determined CU grad named Maryse, I was primed, finally, to graduate at the end of the summer session with a degree in journalism.
The well-tattered grade-point average by then had crawled upwards toward the Big C, primarily owing to stunning (and thoroughly unexplainable) academic performances in esoteric four-hour courses like Geomorphology and Anthropology. (I can’t tell you the difference between a rock and a mud puddle, but I can still elaborate on the topic of brachiating apes. Just ask.)
I might also have done well in Archaeology. Can’t remember, but I can tell you that the folks at CU are good at digging into the past. Not long ago, a brave soul from the CU College of Media, Communication and Information – possibly outfitted in one of those forehead-mounted flashlights and carrying a pickaxe — descended into the records tombs of the campus Armory Building and came up with some correspondence about me.
Jan. 8, 1968: Dean Jim Brinton wrote a letter to the Office of Admissions and Records:
“I have reviewed Mr. Cox’s work with the professors he has this semester and it appears likely that he will come up with all A’s and B’s and that his average will then be close to 2.00. His present work would rank him very close to the top of his class in journalism.”
Ahh, dear Dean Brinton. Never was there a more patient, or circumspect, man. He didn’t mention, of course, that I’d been slaving six years in UPI’s journalistic crucible and damn well should have been “very close to the top” of a class of teen-aged rookies. Nor did he say that there was also one small problem: At the end of the upcoming summer session, I would still be three hours short of the minimum number of hours needed for graduation.
That was bad news for the faculty of the School of Journalism. They were all tired of my face. They dearly wanted to get rid of me. And I dearly disappointed them. I enrolled in a 3-credit correspondence course in Creative Writing to complete the 124-hours required for graduation.
At the end of the summer and back at UPI, I hadn’t finished the correspondence course – demands of work, you know.
They moved me to the graduation list for the following January. Too soon.
“Dear Dean Brinton: …As it stands now, I have ten of 27 [creative writing] assignments completed. I will have them completed by June graduation, come hell [or] high water.”
They moved me to the June graduation list.
May, 1969: At the school’s Awards Banquet in May they gave me, in absentia, a:
May 14, 1969:
“Dear Bob: I’m sorry you weren’t able to be at the Awards Banquet to receive this in person. Note that it goes to a male graduate. That means you’ve got to make it this time. Sincerely, Jim.”
Initially not too sure about the reference to “Scholarship” I soon began feeling guilty about the “character and competence” part.
May 29, 1969:
“Dear Dean Brinton: … “My face is red and may I apologize for a dragging tail…UPI caught up with me…I expect to be able to write you by the end of June that I, finally, have received a final grade in Creative Writing. Then, I suppose, I can go out and be a creative writer and leave UPI to the winds.”
I suggested that I “might return the award for safekeeping until August.” He never took me up on the offer. I think I’d worn him out.
Then came the winds, followed by high water, followed by hell, followed by an offer to write politics at the San Diego Union. I’d already been hired and assigned a desk when I was asked to fill out a formal application form, “for the record, you know.” The form had a blank line under a word, “Education:” I filled it in with: “Outstanding male graduate in journalism, University of Colorado, June, 1969.” It sufficed.
After a couple of years in San Diego, reporting stuff they didn’t want to print in what was affectionately and widely known as “Dick Nixon’s newspaper,” [a representative sample, here] there came a series of journalistic employers and requests for information on my education. They all got the same line, “Outstanding male graduate…” It worked every time.
Although I’d often been accused by miffed politicians of writing creatively, I never finished that creative writing correspondence course. I had never gotten the degree. In its place, I had a humorous, self-revelatory conversation-starter, which I inflicted on many people. Like I said, odds are you’re probably one of them.
In 1975, after working for too many unappreciative, growly, low-paying publishers, I became one myself. Along with the second lovely and beautiful and intelligent and determined women of my life, Linda Shoemaker, I’d become the co-owner and editor and publisher and paper-delivery boy of my own little newspaper empire.
A couple of years later, I was sipping a drink at the CU president’s house party before a Buff game, telling the story to Mort Stern, who was then dean of the J-School. “Geez, Bob, we’ve got to do something about that,” he said. You need to be a full-fledged alum. Let me see what I can do.”
“Thanks,” I said, “but I don’t need it any more – it’s more fun having the story to tell.” Another decade passed.
In the late ‘80s, my son Kennedy came along. I had a feeling he would probably graduate from CU, just like his mom, Sidnie — the third lovely and beautiful and intelligent and determined women of my life. And let’s not forget his cousin, the lovely and beautiful and intelligent and determined Buff grad Amie. I figured it would be good to go back and get those required hours and a degree, if for nothing more than genealogical consistency (it certainly wouldn’t be for my loveliness or beauty or intelligence or determination.) So I inquired about my chances at the registrar’s office. Bad news came back from Boulder. Things had changed – I now needed several more hours, I was told, more than a semester’s worth. I gave up on that idea, and went back to the demanding business of publishing – fixing roof leaks, painting coin boxes, having unnatural relationships with computers and occasionally editing products of my second newspaper empire.
And there it sat. Although freed for life from job aps, I was doomed for eternity to put a checkmark in the “Some College” box on various questionnaires. For those college-related questions, I would have to enter “Attended” — not “graduated from” — on social media profiles that would hang around in cyberspace long after my full obit is recorded in a Tweet.
Kennedy graduated from CU in 2009. He’d joined the ranks of four lovely and beautiful and intelligent and determined women of my past or in my presence – three wives and a niece — all of whom were full-fledged diploma-bearing recipients of letters from the CU alumni fund. I felt like an uninvited dummkopf at the party. I could strongly empathize with old Joe Gargery in Great Expectations.
Oh well. What the hell. It was a funny story. And, old Joe, uneducated as he was, really wasn’t a bad fellow. I could live with that.
But, hold it.
Not long ago, one of those lovely and beautiful and intelligent and determined women of my life, who had heard the missing diploma story one too many times, and must have felt sorry for me, told the tale to an acquaintance of hers named Lori Bergen, who just happens to be CU’s new dean of the College of Media, Communication and Information, and who must have some archaeological curiosity trait in her DNA. Ms. Bergen, bless her, asked somebody put on a forehead flashlight, pick up their pickaxe and descend into the musty bowels of the Armory to find my records.
Then she sent me an email.
… I learned today some news that will be … delightful to share with you.
We still have your student file — papers, transcripts and letters — in a manila folder in the records room of the Armory.
There we found correspondence between you and Dean Brinton, where the two of you discussed the challenge you had in finishing a 3-hour correspondence course to complete your degree. You mention in one letter about how you had been agonizing over the challenge of completing the course while working at your new position with UPI.
As dean of the new College of Media, Communication and Information, which now includes the major in journalism, I’m delighted to tell you that, although you were 3 hours short of the 124 hours required to graduate in 1969, the journalism program now only requires 120 hours to complete a degree. Because you have met all the other requirements, it’s possible for us to award the degree to you now.
So, congratulations… Warm regards, Lori
I poured a glass of brandy, went outside, sat in the sun, and had a friendly one-way chat with Jim Brinton. Wherever he is, I hope he heard what I had to say.
& A few days ago, I went to the post office and got a packet of those old letters from Dean Bergen’s colleague Steve Jones, who headed up the archaelogical dig. (Steve, a sensitive sort of guy, didn’t put the transcripts in the packet. May they rest in peace.) Then I got a notice saying I had something too big to stuff in the postoffice box. It was a big stiff cardboard envelope. This slid out:
So, my friends, when I told you I hadn’t gotten a CU diploma, I was giving you FAKE NEWS. But don’t tell that to Donald Trump. He’d never believe it — I’m am a journalist, for pete’s sake. He especially won’t believe it after I’ve changed all those college references on social media from “Attended” to “Graduated from.”
& Off to write other installments of my new book, “My First Ten Years as an Undergraduate and Other Tales of a C-Average Life,” I’m outta here.
1 Brave soul