I Love My Alma Mater

A non-sports UCLA post

T

aku says he loves MY love for UCLA. Well, you gotta love your alma mater, right? I feel for students who are indifferent about their school. I LOVE my school. And Merrow Mistral, your youngest’s choice of college? Brilliant!

Anyway, everyone who reads Onigiriman knows I love UCLA football. While this occupies a significant part of my love affair with the University of California, Los Angeles, it is not the only part. For starters, I received a solid education at UCLA. As a self-proclaimed slacker during my youth, I had to go to a community college before I could even entertain thoughts of going to any four-year college. Yes, the O-man was pretty much a slacker during high school. Once I realized why God put women on this earth, I couldn’t concentrate on anything else–with the exception of music, maybe. But studies? Fergit about it! I worked part time to earn money for the sole purpose of meeting women and going on dates. Yes, I was a jerk. Yes, I was stupid. But I was young and impetuous and I enjoyed life to its fullest.

The drawback, obviously, was my academics. Thanks to all this fooling around, I didn’t study one iota and failed to make the grades to go to a four-year college. I wrote about this previously, I believe, so I won’t rehash. Suffice it to say that it took me a few years to realize that school was actually important and I had to start from scratch at a community college. I went to East Los Angeles College, and the work was not too hard. In fact, I was surprised at how much I could learn with relatively little effort. I became an A student, graduated with honors and found myself at eligible for UCLA.

But I quickly learned that the amount of studying I did to earn good grades at ELAC would not come close to satisfying any of my goals of excelling at UCLA. I was rarely in the top 10 percent of any of the courses I took, even though I studied day and night. During my ELAC years, I would work 30 to 40 hours a week and enjoyed a full social life even as I earned “A”s in physics or anatomy or English. But at UCLA, I cut my hours to less than 16 hours–two full days on Saturday and Sunday–so that I could focus on studying all day and all night. The little money I made barely covered my tuition–it was admittedly very inexpensive back then–and books. Indeed, my greatest cost was gas and parking. I have distinct memories of counting pennies in my pocket to see if I could afford a 35-cent cup of coffee at North Campus. I often felt miserably poor.

But I never questioned my school of choice, nor the sacrifices I needed to make in order to make the grade. I befriended the better students in class, learning that I would only improve by hanging out with the good students. Fortunately for me, hanging out with the good students in Japanese courses–I majored in Japanese–equaled hanging out with the cool students… well, as cool as Japanese majors could be, I guess. I mean, there were no jocks in our group, but we did have our share of cute young ladies. And my best bud was a manager on the basketball team, so we sometimes got in earlier than the other students to get good seats to watch a game in Pauley Pavillion–free for students, of course.

When we weren’t in class or shooting the breeze during lunch at North Campus, we were often next door studying in the University Research Library (URL). It housed the “Oriental Library” (I wonder if they’ve ever renamed it?), so we often studied there as well as find our research material. During midterms and finals, we’d be there until 11 PM, scurry to get coffee at North Campus before it closed, then returned to study. By 1 or 2, I’d be beat and drive home, often giving a friend or two a lift back to their apartments. We were often fried, bug-eyed from the studying and frazzled from the caffeine. But we helped each other and supported each other.

Of course, studying wasn’t the only thing we did. One October, we decided to indulge in our beer drinking ways and had a Moon Appreciation (tsukimi) Night at a friends apartment, where we all wore yukata or kimono and partied all night. We’d sing karaoke, dance to music, or some of us would go into the corner to play mah-jong until the wee hours. When I could afford to get off work, I’d go with my friends to football games on Saturdays and when we won, we’d go to J-town and eat and drink to celebrate until the bars closed. We once dragged one Japanese sensei to J-town, and she was very impressed with the camaraderie we manifested.

I attribute these friendships–many of which are still active–to UCLA. Not just because they were formed there, but because of the environment the school fostered to enable many of like minds to find each other and to develop relationships. Interestingly enough, I was among the very few who actually majored in Japanese. Most of my friends majored in fields as diverse as linguistics, communications, fine arts, economics, and English. Most took some Japanese, but not all. And we were ethnically a relatively varied group–Japanese, Chinese, Korean, White, Latino, a reflection of the campus itself. It was a fun and exciting time for me, and I treasure every moment I spent there.

I will never forget my alma mater.

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