From September 6, ’88 through the beginning of Thanksgiving week twelve weeks later, I had a grand total of $335 to work with. That included money for food, rent and washing clothes. It included the $75 I made over three weeks and six sessions with Sera-Tec donating plasma. It wasn’t the first time I’d tortured dollars into submission, and it’s hardly been the last. But it was the first time in my life I reached out for help beyond myself and family.
From Boy @ The Window:
Despite these acts of generosity and my acts of desperation, I knew that I’d probably starve before the semester was over. I had less than ten dollars to work with after the first week in November. I went to Thackeray Hall to register for classes for next semester. While there, it occurred to me to go upstairs to see one of the financial aid counselors, an older Black woman named Beverly who’d been really nice to me while working through my bill issues earlier in the semester. I told her in detail what was going on. “You need to talk to Ron,” she said, referring to Ron Slater, the university ombudsman, the person who normally resided over tuition payment issues. So there I was the next day, explaining to the ombudsman my situation.
“We’ll take care of this, we’ll find you some extra money. Just hang in there for a few days,” he said. Slater actually offered me money right out of his wallet.
“No thanks, I’ll be all right,” I said, my voice starting to crack because I was so grateful that anyone cared enough to help me through my dire straits. I somehow found a way not to cry right there on the spot.
The week before Thanksgiving, I went to check in with Beverly. “I’ve got good news for you, but you’ll have to wait a few days.” Through the ombudsman, the university had recalculated my financial aid package, increasing my Pell to the maximum amount allowed, and added the federal SEOG grant (Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants) to my aid menu. Both gave me an extra $800 to work with. After that weekend, one where Regis’ potatoes became a part of my diet, I bummed five dollars off of one of my classmates from General Writing. The next day I got my check from the ombudsman. “I’m so glad to have been of help. It’s part of my job. I just wish you’d come to me earlier,” Slater said. Hearing that did make me tear up. I was in the spirit of the season already. It was two days before Thanksgiving. I spent that holiday at Melissa’s house with her and her father, an ailing contractor in his early-sixties.
Slater’s wasn’t the only act of generosity I was thankful for that semester. Between my friends Regis and Marc and Melissa, I didn’t starve in those last couple of weeks before Thanksgiving. But Slater’s job, his work had made it so that I could graduate, not just eat peanut butter crackers, horrible tuna sandwiches and pork neck bones and rice into that December.That was a quarter-century ago.
Fast-forward nine years. My then girlfriend and now wife also ended up seeking help from Slater, as she could not finish her degree because she owed several thousand dollars to Pitt in tuition. I encouraged her to write and meet with Slater. He deferred her tuition payments for the upcoming spring semester so that she could graduate in April ’98.
It’s not every day that I get to thank someone for not only helping me, but others in my life as well. I don’t know where Ron Slater is now, but I am truly, truly thankful that our paths crossed in the fall of ’88.