'91, 1991, Adulthood, Civic Arena, Class of 1991, Diversity, Fellowships, Financial Aid, Graduate School, Graduation, Job, Mount Vernon High School, Mount Vernon New York, NYU, Pitt, Student Loans, Uncertainty, Ungraduate Education, University of Maryland, University of Pittsburgh, Wesley Posvar, Western Psychiatric Institute & Clinic, Work
I can be hard on people, places and things, especially the ones I like and love. That’s as true of my undergraduate alma mater as anything else. Twenty years ago this date, I graduated from the University of Pittsburgh. I didn’t attend the cattle-call ceremony at the Civic Arena that Sunday in ’91. Almost none of my immediate circle of friends attended, either. My mother and my younger siblings, still in the midst of welfare, weren’t going to be there to see me anyway. The Penguins were on that day, in the middle of a dominant playoff run, with Lemieux scoring at will. And I had other things on my mind that day and weekend. Like, will I be able to go to grad school without taking out tens of thousands of dollars in student loans?
This was a time of major transition for me. Two years removed from the end of the reign of my ex-stepfather at 616, and four years after I graduated from Mount Vernon High School and my obsession
with Crush #2. I was essentially the same person, and yet there was something inside me that had started clawing its way out over the previous year. It was a drive, a determination, a rage that I’d buried since my first year in Humanities and the summer of abuse that followed in ’82. I was going to graduate school, at least I hoped that I was. Or I was going to have to find a real job, something that made me feel like I had diarrhea.
I knew on my Pitt graduation date that the departments of history at NYU, University of Maryland and Pitt had accepted me into their masters programs. But NYU wanted me to make a signed commitment before they awarded me any financial aid. The University of Maryland conveniently lost my application packet during their graduate fellowship decision process. By the time my packet resurfaced, the department had awarded all of their fellowships, and decided to put me on provisional status. Not based on my grades, mind you, but based on how late they were in going through my application. Pitt had accepted me a couple of weeks before my graduation, but I was sixth on the alternate list for teaching fellowships that would cover my tuition and provide a stipend.
I felt a lot of anxiety about all of this uncertainty regarding my immediate future. It helped to have friends, even with my friends in the middle of their own uncertainty. My friend Marc was working at a Black newspaper, dreaming of law school but uncertain about his prospects. Three other friends, including someone I was sort of dating, were taking their last classes or unsure about grad school or law school. Even my summer job working for a project at the Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic was shaky. It only paid $5.20 an hour, and I could’ve easily gone back to Mount Vernon and New York making $8 an hour or more doing the same work.
But as uncertain as I felt about things, this much I was certain about. The four years I spent at Pitt were ones that cocooned me in a way that none of my time growing up in Mount Vernon, New York did. I began to heal while I was there, academically, socially, emotionally. I was far from done learning how to connect to people, but I wasn’t the twelve-year-old neophyte keeping only the most rudimentary connections to humans either. My education was a valuable part of that experience. The friendships and other bonds I forms, the lessons I learned about trust, the efforts — however limited — the university made toward creating a campus climate that embraced diversity were all appreciated.
Even at the time, I felt comfortable at Pitt because it was the first place I learned to be comfortable in my own skin. It was a place where my friends, my acquaintances and others around me didn’t look at me like I was a freak because I listened to U2, sang in high-falsetto or walked at Warp Factor 3 to get across campus.
Those are the feelings, those good feelings, that I have about my four years of undergrad and two years of grad school (more on that in May) at the University of Pittsburgh. So, “Hail to Pitt,” and to my Pitt friends and folks from the classes of ’90-’94, Happy Graduation Anniversary Day.