Obscurity Knocks

Earnest, empathetic, industrious, unpretentious, gay Virgo in Milwaukee with a great life, amazing friends, and a wonderful family.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Lehigh University

I earned my B.A. degree from Marquette. As a history major, the possibility of gainful employment in the mid-90s was remote, even though I graduated magna cum laude. When I was finishing up at Marquette, my undergraduate adviser encouraged me to apply to graduate school. Since I had no real idea what I wanted to do with my life, I figured I'd give it a shot. When deciding which schools to apply to, my adviser recommended Lehigh University, which is where he earned his M.A. degree. I had never heard of Lehigh at the time. Most people in the Midwest haven't heard of Lehigh, even though its current U.S. News & World Report ranking is number 33 in the nation, ahead of both Boston College and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In spite of its high academic quality, people in the Midwest give you a blank stare if you mention Lehigh.

Lehigh is located in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Bethlehem is part of the Lehigh Valley which includes Allentown (of Billy Joel song fame) and Easton. It's about 50 miles north of Philadelphia and 75 miles west of New York City.

In any event, I applied to Lehigh and eight other schools. Lehigh came through with the best offer, including a full-tuition fellowship and teaching responsibilities after the first semester. So I decided to head east.

Going to Lehigh was probably the scariest thing I've ever done. My family and friends were all in the Midwest. I didn't know one living soul in Pennsylvania. As a fairly extroverted person, that was incredibly difficult. I was one of four new M.A. candidates in the history program that fall. After one of our first classes, I suggested that we eat lunch together. All three of the other new graduate students said no. So I ate lunch alone at Subway. With time, I did get to know my fellow graduate students. The three other new students ended up being friends, and I'm still in touch with one of them today. A year or so after their snub of my lunch invitation, we laughed and joked about it. I also got to be friends with some of the other people in my program and became fast friends with Craig since he was also from Wisconsin.

Graduate school was intimidating at first, particularly since there were Ph.D. students in my classes. I quickly learned that if I did the assigned readings, I could easily hold my own in class discussions. Before long, the straight guys in my Civil War causation readings course were asking me to join them at the Tally-Ho Tavern for a beer after class.

I ended up enjoying living in the Lehigh Valley and being a graduate student. I have moments when I wish I could return to those days of sitting at a study carrel in Fairchild-Martindale Library reading some history book, looking out the window at South Mountain, and teaching sixth grade reading at Broughal Middle School.

I earned my M.A. degree in 1998. I could have stayed at Lehigh and gone on for my Ph.D., but after two years, I was ready to return to the Midwest and be closer to my family and friends. I've been back in Milwaukee ever since, but am grateful for the education I received at Lehigh.


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