Sunday, March 22, 2015

On, On, U of K

I like to watch college basketball, men and women's, although I don't watch too much of either anymore. But I remain a huge fan of the University of Kentucky men's basketball team.

However, I didn't go to U of Ky - I went to Western Kentucky University.

I loved my time at WKU - it's a time that is very precious to me. It made me who I am. I cherish it. But I remain a huge fan of U of Ky rather than WKU when it comes to men's basketball, and during March Madness, you can imagine what many of my Facebook posts are about.

A few people have found it strange that I can be an alumnus of one university but be such a fan of another university's basketball team. This is a question from a Facebook friend this week:

I know you're going to dislike me when I ask this (but I'm just like this ) why did you go to WKU?? blahblah

She claims she wasn't serious in the question... but to be honest, I'm getting tired of criticisms like this. So I'm going to answer it here, once and for all.

I had no burning desire to be a Hilltopper. None. I couldn't go where I wanted to go: Purdue, which had the literary program I was so dying to be a part of. I got accepted at Purdue, I visited the campus, I went through the catalogue picking my first semester of classes - but there was no way I could afford it. For a few weeks after I realized I couldn't go, I made up my mind to move to California, work for a year, get state residency, and then go to university there - but the person I was going to do that with backed out. So I turned my attention to in-state schools.

Of the in-state public universities, WKU had the best journalism program - nationally renowned, in fact - and I thought that would be my best bet to become a better writer. My friend with whom I had planned to go to California also was going to WKU, and convinced me it was where I should go too. A friend of the family finagled a small scholarship for me my freshman year, and along with another small scholarship I got with the help of the student guidance counselor, plus money from my paternal grandparents, I was able to afford the first year's tuition. After that, I had to work part time in the school year and full-time (and then some) in the summer to pay for each year.

Jayne is not quite ATGATTJayne & giant egg
I enjoyed my time at WKU, I really did. So many people that were my friends at WKU are still my friends now, and I appreciate so much all of the students and teachers that I encountered there, and how they helped me. I didn't follow sports when I was at WKU; I was too busy studying,working, enjoying the theatre and dance department, enjoying the social scene and having my heart broken repeatedly, although I did go to a couple of WKU football games - so I could see the performance of the visiting marching bands from two schools famous for such. When I wear my WKU gear, it's with my time there and friends from there in mind, and I really like taking photos of me wearing such in places like Chornobyl and Wyoming and Louisville baseball games and what not, because it's just not something you see much of - someone with a WKU shirt in Ukraine.

But WKU didn't give me anything; I paid for that time there. I owe WKU nada in regard to anything I got from there. I also never felt a particular WKU culture, one that was unique or particularly special among other colleges in the state. When I told people I went to WKU, the thing they might know about it was the journalism program - the other thing they might know about it is that the band Government Cheese was based there. Now, years later, it's rare that I get a comment about either of those things when people see me in a WKU t-shirt. 

I also want to note that WKU hasn't been great to me post-graduation. I donated to WKU every year after graduation for many years, because it was my university, and I thought that's what one did. But when I applied for graduate school, I needed certain paperwork from them. Their web site at the time (2002) was really unclear on how to get it. Long story short, after several emails, I ended up having to call, from Germany, at a time when long distance calls were stupid expensive, and the head of the WKU office  in charge of student records was AWFUL - she said that "we don't have time to answer emails" and said that this "whole web thing is so new" (by then, it was about 20 years old) and on and on. I did eventually get the records I needed, but I also wrote and snail mailed complaint letters to about five different people at WKU. Not one of them responded. Not. One. It's still left a really bad taste in my mouth. Plus, WKU doesn't really have much in terms of services for alumni - I'd love to network with other WKU graduates who are in similar work to me, I'd love to offer myself as a resource to WKU students that want to work in nonprofits or international humanitarian aid and development, but every offer I've made regarding that has been ignored by every WKU admin or faculty member I've written. I give up!

By contrast, my love of U of KY basketball is something deep and very emotional. It's one of the few positive things my family did together: watch Kentucky basketball games and talk about the games and players. Growing up, Kentucky basketball was something to celebrate and bond over with neighbors and students and anyone you encountered with a UK t-shirt out-of-state. I have so many wonderful memories of watching games with friends and family - amid not-so-great memories. When I was a kid, Kentucky games were the events I could count on where my family would all have fun and want to be together. I can remember my mother telling me about players and great games from years before I was born, with a sense of awe and pride. I can remember where I was during so many pivotal games over the years. There is just nothing like the emotional roller coaster of following U of Ky over a season! I also have so enjoyed when I'm wearing a U of KY t-shirt and someone comes up to me to say something, positive or negative - that t-shirt means something, either good or bad, all over the USA - and beyond.

And I apologize to Kyle Macy for bothering the hell out of him when he came to Henderson to sign autographs when I was about 14 or so, but that's another story...

Kentucky is the butt of so many jokes all over the USA. It's perfectly acceptable to say that you think all people from Kentucky are uneducated, stupid, racist, violent, unclean, and on and on - no one is going to say, "What an awful stereotype! How rude!" Sometimes I can have a sense of humor about the Kentucky jokes, and often, I can join in regarding a lot of the criticisms of the state - that we have a state-supported Creation Museum makes me so ashamed, as does our teen pregnancy rate, our prescription drug use rate, the condition of dogs and cats in the state, and on and on. But, often, the comments and stereotyping really, really hurt. Kentucky is a beautiful state, one I'm proud to be from, one I've loved showing off to people when I can get them to visit me there. Kentucky's national park, its national forest, its national historic sites, its state parks, Louisville, Frankfurt, Bardstown, my home town of Henderson - there are a lot of lovely, interesting places in Kentucky. Our music is amazing. Our food is amazing. And our love of live performance is amazing. I've been all over the world, to more than 30 countries, and I can tell you that Kentucky is special and wonderful, it really is. When I'm wearing a shirt with "Kentucky" in big, blue letters, I'm thinking about my state even more than I am my beloved basketball team. I'm proud of both.

So, yes, I went to one university, but I celebrate the basketball program of another's. Don't get it? Well, it's a Kentucky thing. You just don't understand.

On, On, U of K!

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