During my junior year I had begun taking required education courses to become a teacher. Father Louis Bannan, from whom I took Psychology of Education, encouraged me to pursue a high school teaching career. He was gentle and kind and he taught by continually asking questions, which engaged us in heated but respectful discussions. My plans to become a high school teacher, however, were changed a few months before graduation.
The fall quarter of my senior year, I received a letter in the campus mail from Professor Bernard Kronick, chairman of the political science department and director of fellowships, informing me that I had been nominated by the University for a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship. He asked that I come by his office to pick up the application form. After my afternoon class, I went to see him.
He was a short, stocky man with glasses and was bald over the front and top of his head. He loosened his tie and took off his tight-fitting sport coat and draped it over the back of his chair. “Congratulations, Frank,” he said, leaning forward and handing me a large envelope. “This is the application form you need to fill out.”
“Thank you.” I took the envelope and placed it on my lap.
“The Woodrow Wilson Fellowship program is designed to encourage college graduates to consider college teaching as a career.”
“But I am planning to teach high school.”
“Have you thought of teaching at the college level?”
“No.” I shook my head.
“Well, you shouldn’t rule it out. As I said, these national fellowships are to encourage bright students, like you, to pursue college teaching. Think about it.”
“I will,” I responded halfheartedly, glancing down at the thick envelope.
I thanked him and went back to my room, sat at my desk, and opened the envelope. I read through the application, thinking, I am not smart enough to teach in college. That evening, after closing the language lab, I told Laura about being nominated for the fellowship.
“That’s wonderful. Congratulations!”
When I told her that I wasn’t sure I should apply, that the application was really long and I didn’t have time to fill it out, she said, “You’ve got to be kidding!”
I remained silent for a few seconds as she patiently waited for a response. I glanced at her and then looked down and said, “I don’t think I have a chance.”
“Of course you do,” she said, smiling. “Why would the university nominate you if you didn’t?” Suddenly I felt more weight on my shoulders. “If you don’t apply, you won’t get the fellowship,” she added.
I worked on the application every day for several days. I wrote a personal statement describing my childhood experiences and explaining why I wanted to be a teacher. I asked Fr. Shanks, Dr. Vari, and Fr. O’Neil for letters of recommendation. A few weeks later, after I had mailed the application, I received a letter from the Woodrow Wilson Foundation informing me that I was a regional finalist.
I felt happy but, again, worried. The possibility of going to graduate school for a doctorate scared me. When I found out that I had an interview the following week at Stanford University where the regional finalists were being screened, I felt even more tense. I rushed to see Fr. O’Neil to tell him about it.
“Good for you,” he said, in his soft, raspy voice. He stood up and shook my hand. “Good for you,” he repeated. He sat down slowly and placed his trembling hands on his lap.
“I am worried about the interview. I don’t think I’ll do well.”
“Of course you will. You have to be confident. Remember, God is on your side. You should dress nicely. Wear the suit Mrs. Hancock gave you.”
“It’s too big,” I said. Even though it had been two years, I still couldn’t get her husband’s pinstriped suit to fit.
“Oh…it doesn’t matter,” he said thoughtfully. “Just be sure to wear a tie.” He got up slowly, moved behind his desk chair, and braced himself on the back of it with both hands. “Can you do me a favor and accompany me to Macy’s at Valley Fair? I need to buy some socks. It won’t take long.”
“Sure. I’d be happy to.” I wondered why he invited me, but I thought it would be disrespectful to say no. As we headed to the Jesuit parking lot in the back of Varsi, I noticed he leaned slightly forward and his shoulders drooped a bit more than they had the year before.