Journal Entry: September 18, 1963
Today’s assembly was nerve-racking. I got through the bookstore successfully, managing to get every book on the list, the K&E slide rule, drafting instruments and seven college-lined notebooks. My biggest problem (or so I thought walking over to the auditorium) was carrying the heavy book-bag. I was wrong.
The Dean’s voice soared over the feedback that screeched from the speakers:
“Look to your right and left. Three freshman – two of you will not graduate.”
He concluded on a high note, wished us success and reminded us how fortunate we were to have been chosen in such a competitive environment! As the Dean left the podium, my new classmates grabbed their gear and poured out of the auditorium, en masse. I opted to wait, while trying to fade into the background. But it was not to be, as the cute boy next to me asked:
“What are you doing here?”
Startled, at first, I replied: “I want to be an engineer!”
“You’re taking a guy’s place – a guy who really wants to be an engineer. You’ll get married, have babies and your degree will be wasted, while a deserving guy was robbed of the opportunity.“
His words stung and I turned purple with embarrassment. I got out of there as quickly as I could feeling many eyes on me. Had he been right? I am qualified; I have great grades, killed the college boards and though Stevens rejected my application (girls not allowed), Newark College of Engineering welcomed me. I have a NJ State Scholarship, making college affordable for Mom and Dad. They are so proud of me – the first in our family to go to college! I deserve to be here, as much as he does!
This morning, I was excited, anticipating joining nine other young women (and 516 ‘freshmen’) for Orientation. Now, I am upset and questioning myself. His words may be a barometer of what lies ahead. Tonight, alone in the dark, I feel isolated and uncertain. But I can’t let that define me. I resolve to fight harder, get better grades and develop a thick skin, to prove to others that I can do it! I just hope that boy is not in any of my classes.
“The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.”~ L. P. Hartley: The Go-Between (1953)
This post is part of an ongoing series: “An Engineer’s Journal”.
Though I did not write this journal contemporaneously, my memory of that day and so many others is vivid. With wisdom gleaned from adversity and maturity, I look back on my undergraduate experiences, and realize with dismay, that in 1963 I blamed myself for not being what everyone else expected, rather than recognizing the ignorance and bigotry in others.