Early out of the gates
twas a long-running joke.
"You're graduating in three
years? Must feel good," my RC
advisor said during my senior audit.
"But I could fail one of the classes
in Madrid, leaving me two credits
I had a similar exchange while
talking to my mom over the phone
while in Marseille.
"Livingin NewYork won't be that
expensive," I said of my post-gradu-
ation plans. "Anyway, maybe I'll fail
this Spanish class and have to come
We laughed then, too.
To be sure, I wasn't laughing
when Pedro Trinidad Fernandez, a
Spanish professor at Madrid's Uni-
versidad Complutense, looked me
square in the eye and said, "I think
it's because you have a poor handle
of our language."
Fernandez failed me, leaving me
two credits shy of 120. And I will
never forgive him.
Finishing college in three years
wasn't a long-term goal of mine,
but when it became clear that it was
possible, I decided to make it hap-
pen. I wanted to save money, get
some work experience, catch up on
reading, paintsome pictures, learn a
new language, go for early morning
runs, feel like the adult I wasn't. A
year in New York seemed ideal.
I could finish my last semester of
college in Spain, move out of Michi-
gan and never look back.
My goals were lofty, to say the
least. Not passing the last class I
needed to graduate seemed like
a tragedy. I had failed more than
a class. Still, having to return to
Michigan in the fall didn't com-
pletely wreck my plans. I did get
to spend the summer in New York.
And it wasn't easy.
Where I lived, an apartment
on Greenpoint Avenue in Queens,
there was a killer dog named Jes-
sie who made camp outside my
door (You can read about Jessie in
the New York Daily News article,
"Park Horror Rottweiler Mauls
Dog, Owner," which labels Jessie
as "bloodthirsty."). I had a landlord
who fancied entertaining his guests
in just a towel and only a cemetery
to run through in the mornings. To
add to the character of it all, my first
job was canvassing for the ACLU in
Every day for a month, we can-
vassers took to the streets and
spared no one. On the phone? We
didn't care. Late for a meeting? You
always have a minute for the Con-
stitution. Need to pick your daugh-
ter up fromschool? She can wait - it
is your civil liberties we are talking
about. Bush has made a mess of our
plans of early
graduation oft go
' country - think about the military
commissions and indefinite impris-
onment. Habeas corpus, I don't
think so! Did I mention we're non-
partisan? Come on - spare a minute
for your rights!
I wasn't as committed to the
cause as some of the others, but
it was fun to jump in front of Wall
Street types dictating instructions
to their secretaries and say: "Stop!
Take a minute for the Constitution!"
It made it even more rewarding
when they said, "Hold the speech,
take the Franklin and bother some-
Despite the enjoyable moments,
there was a quota to meet. Can-
vassers may care about the cause,
but they sure talk more about the
money. It was a stressful job - if
I didn't meet the week's quota, I
would be fired. Even though I sur-
prised myself with how well I was
able to convince people to give
me credit card information on the
street, I was worried about my rent.
I decided to take a job as an "out-
doors instructor" at a summer camp
in Central Park.
As a political science major, it
seemed justifiable that I had left for
the big city to fight for civil liberties.
But I didn't know how to explain to
my parents that working at a sum-
mer camp in New York City was the
sure-fire way to success.
The birds of Central Park are sec-
ond to none, I would tell them. Did
you know that the cormorant vom-
its when it's nervous? Or that you
can tell a male house sparrow from
a female if it has a black mask and
To say the least, I didn't think
graduating early would have me
doing bird calls in the middle of
Central Park. r
After my long days at the park,
I would study for the LSAT. I was
always short on cash and energy,
always trying to think up some way
to come by more of both. Somehow,
though, I fell for that city, even
though it had conquered me.
At the summer's end, I knew I
wasn't ready to live on my own in
New York - I didn't yet have the
education to get a job that would
support my lifestyle - but I knew I
would return someday. Although, I
was beginning to question if I was
ready to live on my own anywhere.
While in New York, I landed a
secretarial job at an Ann Arbor law
firm. This job covers my rent and
other living expenses, and little else.
Even so, I'm much better off finan-
cially than in New York, even if my
bird-watching is less regular.
Returning to Ann Arbor helped
me create the life I wanted this year.
I have been able to read on my own,
take some private language lessons,
get a YMCA membership, and even
take a short trip to Disney World (on
paid vacation days).
But the transition was all but sim-
ple. During the fall semester, I left at
2 p.m. for class twice a week, creat-
ing mild chaos in the office, which is
short on staff. It was new to me to
feel guilty about leaving an office. In.
other jobs I've had, my position was
never essential to keep the work-
place functioning. But for the first
time, I felt worse about leaving work
than about beinglate for class.
And I'm not sure I like this new
guilt. I miss thinking like a student
- writing papers, having reading
assignments that I couldn't possibly
finish on time. I continue to work at
the law firm and I generally enjoy
it. But if I've taken anything from
skipping out on school early, it's that
it'll be good to go back. I'm counting
down the days until law school.
-Leah Graboski is a former news
editor for The Michigan Daily
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