Higher Education

I’ve completed 5 semesters at MSU, now in the middle of the 6th, and I’m doing pretty well. Feeling kind of heady.

Some of what I learn is worthless – or sometimes even wrong (a bridge disaster that killed no people was credited with killing 50). Other times there is great insight which is helping me better understand some concepts that were muddy in my mind.

All in all it’s worthwhile.

Maybe just as important, it has shown me I can succeed in higher education. My first trip through college 35 years ago with an unmitigated disaster. And, as this blog proudly proclaims, there is a “Permanent Record.” The SATs I took in December 1967 and my 1.86 GPA from 68-69 are duly noted next to my 5 semesters of A’s.

Over the past few years I have pondered taking more courses, cherry picking subjects that entice me. I wouldn’t go for a degree, but would go for an education… or at least enlightenment.

Yale University, here in New Haven, has a program that seems to fit the bill: The Special Student Program.

Since 1977, the Program for Special Students has offered non-resident students the opportunity to enroll in most Yale College courses for credit. Special Students have used this Program to complete a Bachelor’s degree; to qualify for graduate or professional school; to launch, advance, or change careers; or simply to enrich their personal lives.

The Program for Special Students admits students either for non-degree or for degree enrollment. Yale seeks applicants whose academic background, work experience and community involvement are particularly suited to study at Yale.

All candidates must present evidence of high academic potential, maturity, and clear motivation for their proposed course of study.

I have read about this program and pondered applying for years. Yale is a very intimidating place. Our current president, the last president, and our next president (Kerry or Bush) are all Yalies. There have been others. There will be others in the future. It’s that kind of environment.

Any time I have done a story that touched the Yale student body or faculty, I have come away knowing what a special place it is. Everyone seems driven. Everyone seems challenged. Everyone is so damned smart.

Before applying, I thought it might be the right thing to meet with someone in the admissions office. Is this even a possibility? Today was my day.

It was raining, but I was able to get a space across the street on Hillhouse Avenue. It’s a one way street with mature trees. On either side are buildings that seem like – probably were – mansions.

I stood under my umbrella for a few minutes, looking up and down the block. It was a humbling experience. I wasn’t sure I wanted to go on.

I walked into the office and met with the counselor. She told me we had met before. Her daughter and mine had played basketball together. Years ago, when her daughter said she liked my car, I had taken her for a spin through the parking lot&#185. The interview went well.

There are no guarantees, but I think they’d probably admit me as a non-matriculating special student. That would be fine. Now I have to decide if I want to do it now, or wait until my MSU obligations end, next year at this time.

Will taking meteorology courses, working and having a family make Yale too much? I just don’t know.

It is all so amazing to me. There are courses I want to take. Things I want to learn. And, to have the opportunity to learn them in this environment is much more impressive to this 53 year old than it probably ever would have been when I first went to college – when Yale would have laughed me off campus.

&#185 – Memo to self: be nice to everybody. You never know.

Very Special Burger

I work in New Haven, Connecticut. It is a smallish city – just a bit over 100,000 people. The downtown, though decimated by years of decay and neglect, is starting to show some bright spots, including restaurants and residents.

Yale University shares land with New Haven – not much else.

For a small city, New Haven has a lot of history. Our current president was born here (though he hides it well – claiming to be a Texan). He and his predecessor went to school here. The cotton gin, first assembly line using interchangeable parts, telephone switchboard and phonebook, Erector Set and Lionel trains all originated in New Haven.

However, if you were to ask a native New Havener which first was most important… it would be none of those. That’s because New Haven is the birthplace of the hamburger.

How weird is that?

There’s a legend… and it’s probably true… but I’ll leave that to the proprietors of the place where I had dinner tonight, Louis Lunch.

Louis’ (pronounced Louie’s) is a tiny place, so well hidden that I had driven by it hundreds of times over the last 20 years and had never seen it! The walls are brick. The booth I sat in was minuscule with carving on the wooden table (the same kind of carving often left by students on their schoolroom desks). Sitting against the outside wall I easily felt a cold draft against my legs.

The action at Louis’ takes place behind the counter, where burgers are broiled vertically, over an open flame, in three cast iron grills. The grills themselves are ancient – actually dating from the 1890’s!

You can have onions, cheese and tomato, but no ketchup! No French Fries either. At Louis’ it’s their way or no way, and that includes toast, not a bun.

There are two reasons Louis’ is still around. First, it’s the burger, of course. It is unbelievably tasty. Second, and more important, Louis’ is an anachronism. In this Wal-Mart, McDonald’s, Amazon.com world, Louis’ operates without consultants and accountants and p.r. flacks. There aren’t rounding errors or spoilage. Each individual burger counts.

I’m amazed it took me 20 years to get there.

Blogger’s note: I have no clue where, when, or even whether to use an apostrophe when referring to Louis’. If you’re an etymologist, my apologies in advance.