The great and invigorating influence in American life has been the unorthodox.
Justice William Douglas
Years ago, in my late teens, I made a brief pass through the world of higher education known as Tufts University in Medford/Somerville, Massachusetts. Tufts is essentially a very good school but it was definitely not for me. I was never intended by my creator to be a well rounded orthodox Bachelor of Liberal Arts. I only went there because my brother had ten years previously.
A few of the teachers were charismatic and fascinating. One could learn from them without taking a note or reading a book, and I did. Others were humiliating and verbally abusive, and some were boring and uninterested even in the subjects they taught. Even though I wasn't a Drama major, the only thing I enjoyed was performing plays in the college theatre. There I learned a lot of things because I had to.
I lasted one year at Tufts. And then one early summer day after that first year I was sitting in my apartment in Somerville minding my own business when the phone rang. It was the Charles Theatre in Boston offering me a part in "A View From The Bridge" by Arthur Miller. My life had not only changed but, even though I didn't realize it at the time, had also established what I was going to do with it. I left Tufts and never looked back.
One of the most important benefactors of Tufts was P. T. Barnum who donated funds in the 19th Century for the Barnum Museum of Natural History. In the front of the building was a taxidermists rendering of "Jumbo" the famous Barnum circus elephant.
One year some students researched Barnum's early life and education and submitted it, under a fictitious name, to the Admissions Dean in a request to attend the college. His request was denied. It seems Barnum also did not qualify as a well rounded orthodox liberal arts scholar. Barnum and I were both misfits. Okay by me. Good company.
Not only that but Barnum was a showman, a master entertainer. I was walking in the shadow of one of the great and invigorating influences of .American life. I was unorthodox. I was an entertainer. I have no regrets.
Since then I have seen the damage done by the cookie cutter philosophy of so much education. It is worthless to expect a young person to walk the well established tread mill of life, to be what others are because it's safe, to follow the pattern of sameness, to keep the vigil of protection from the extraordinary, to bar the door against the original and outlandish. It wasn't for the unorthodox Barnum. It's not for me. And it must not be the practice for anyone who is capable of stirring up the vigor of life whatever stage they may be on.
(This is not a contest.)
At what event of the past do you wish you could be present? Why?
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