My brother-in-law is about to receive his college diploma, so I’d like to take this opportunity to share a deeply personal story about why I decided to go to college and how I endured many struggles and saw it through to the end. I’m the seventh out of nine kids in my family, and I was the first one to earn a college degree. I’m also the only one to earn a Bachelor’s degree. Think about that. Out of all those siblings, I’m the only one who made it all the way to graduation. How did I do it? It all started with a little film called Rudy.
I first saw Rudy at the impressionable age of 11. It might sound cliché, but that movie changed my life. Up to that point in my life, I hadn’t given college much thought. But after watching that film, I started to develop a determination to follow in Rudy’s footsteps. I had always been interested in writing, and I wanted to become a great writer someday. College seemed to be the way to reach that goal, but a lot of challenges stood in my way of getting there. My story actually mirrors Rudy’s in many ways, so I’ll compare my journey to his.
First, I’ll give a recap of Rudy’s plot. A young man named Rudy grows up in a working-class family and underperforms in his schoolwork, but he’s passionate about one day playing football for the University of Notre Dame. Despite all the people who say it can’t be done, he saves up as much money as he can and manages to get into a small college near Notre Dame. With the help of a college tutor, a groundskeeper and a Catholic Priest (no, that’s not the setup for a joke), Rudy succeeds at getting into Notre Dame and finally playing for the football team he’s always loved. This is one of the most inspirational films I’ve ever seen, and I highly recommend you check it out. Now on with my story.
“I Don’t Want to Do That Anymore”
When Rudy first arrives in South Bend, Indiana, he’s greeted by a Priest who tells him that there’s no chance he can make it into Notre Dame with his grades. Rudy thoughtfully responds, “Ever since I was a kid, I wanted to go to school here. And ever since I was a kid, everyone said it couldn’t be done. My whole life, people have been telling me what I could do and couldn’t do. I’ve always listened to them, believed in what they said… I don’t want to do that anymore.” Amazed by Rudy’s determination, the Priest helps Rudy find a way to make his dream a reality.
When I was a child, I had a bad habit of living down to other people’s ideas about me. Not that I would partake in any really bad things like swearing or acting lewdly, but I would pretend to be ignorant about things or simply play the fool so I would be the butt of people’s jokes. It started as a defense mechanism. I thought it was nice to let others be happy, even if it was at my expense. But it became a destructive habit that could easily have made me into someone no one would want to be around. I sometimes notice it still trying to creep into the back of my mind when I interact with people. However, like Rudy, I recognized at a young age that this was a serious weakness. I managed to turn myself around and start being more confident in my junior-high years, and it’s been all uphill since then.
“I Don’t Want to Be Frank or John”
Early in the film, Rudy’s father tries to talk him out of going to Notre Dame by pointing out that his older brothers can help Rudy have a comfortable life as an industrial worker. But Rudy simply points out, “I don’t want to be Frank or John,” and boards his bus headed for Notre Dame.
I grew up near Redmond, Washington, the headquarters of Nintendo of America. My brothers and I loved video games, so it was a match made in heaven. Both of my older brothers wrote entertaining columns about video games for a local newspaper while they were still in high school. My oldest brother wrote two books full of game reviews in the mid-90s, and they garnered enough attention to get him invited to a number of events at Nintendo’s headquarters. Since I was the most dependable younger brother (I guess), I got to tag along at many of those events. I had a lot of fun. I played a lot of games before they debuted in America, and I got to see some really interesting things that went into the making of those games. However, the more I saw of the grown-up world, the less I felt like I fit in there. After one press conference, some of the reporters got drunk at dinner and started telling obscene jokes in front of their children. I got the sense that this wasn’t for me.
As it turned out, it wasn’t for my older brothers, either. Nathan (my oldest brother) went into software testing and Mike (my other older brother) tried his hand at graphic design and linguistics. Ironically, I’m the only one who now has a career in writing. I always knew that I wouldn’t turn out quite like my brothers. Nathan is a natural leader, Mike is more confident than I am, and my younger brother Kevin is analytically minded, and he’s great with cars. I’m creative and a little shy.
Rudy’s father shares a story about how Rudy’s grandfather lost everything in the Great Depression because he didn’t play it safe. His conclusion is, “Chasing a stupid dream causes nothing but you and everyone around you heartache.”
I love my dad. He means well, but sometimes he says things that are hard to hear either because I think he’s wrong or I know he’s right. Case in point, when I declared my intention to attend college and major in Public Relations, my dad pulled me aside and gave me a little fatherly advice. I don’t remember his exact words, but he basically told me that that was a bad idea because, sure, I was a good writer, but I was a terrible speaker. I stuttered quite a bit back then, and I didn’t always stay on topic when I participated in conversations. I had always been socially awkward, and that was one of the reasons I had decided to major in Public Relations. I wanted to turn my weakness into a strength. I knew I had it in me to be a good speaker because I was already so good at sharing interesting ideas in writing. I wanted to build on my ability to communicate so that I could eventually feel comfortable speaking with people, giving speeches, and being pleasant to be around.
My dad was trying to spare me what he saw as a fast track to unhappiness, but he didn’t understand what I was trying to do. I had a plan, and I was going to stick to it, no matter what. While many college students seem to change their major multiple times because they don’t know what they really want to do, I never changed my major because I was always focused on the end goal. If you ever talk with me in person, you’ll be able to tell for yourself if it was wise or not for me to go into my particular major. My wife and friends would probably tell you that I made the right choice.
A Catholic Priest helps Rudy get into Holy Cross, a small college near Notre Dame. He gets him one semester, and Rudy has to earn good enough grades to warrant a second semester, and so on. If he performs amazingly, he might have a chance of getting into Notre Dame.
I went to Cascadia Community College in Bothell, Washington for my first two years of college. That was a nice little college, and it had a high-school kind of feeling to it. I enjoyed it. I earned my Associate in Integrated Studies degree there, and I graduated with Honors and on the Dean’s List. Grades were never a problem for me there. I earned A’s with ease, especially in all the English classes I took. The only question for me was where to go after I graduated from Cascadia.
Notre Dame is one of the most famous religious universities in the world. Rudy and his whole family are enthralled by that university at least partly because they are Catholic. But Rudy is the only member of his family who wants to do anything more than watch Notre Dame football games on TV. He wants to go there and be a part of that university.
Growing up near Seattle, I had always expected to go to the University of Washington. But when decision time drew near, I discovered that their tuition was way too high and their newly created waiting list for in-state transfer students (even Honor students) would force me to wait an entire year to get in. All of a sudden, I started thinking about another school I had applied to: Brigham Young University. My dad had graduated from BYU many years before, but he had never particularly praised it or shown any interest in having me go there. But their tuition was much more reasonable and they offered me a generous academic scholarship.
After a lot of thought, I wound up setting my sights on BYU. I had never planned on going to a school run by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but I’m glad I went there. It has a very positive environment where I could focus on just getting my education rather than dealing with the problems inherent in a lot of college life I’ve heard about. Ironically, I wound up having to wait a year to get in, so I didn’t save any time by not going to UW. That long waiting period turned out to be a good thing, though, because I used it to earn the money I needed to survive the challenges that lay ahead.
By Rudy’s 22nd birthday, he has saved up $1,000 to pay for tuition. He’s made a lot of sacrifices to do that, and a lot of people think he’s crazy, but he doesn’t care.
My parents were never rich. With nine kids, they could never afford to put any of us through college. If we wanted to go, we would have to do it on our own. Luckily, I had some divine providence to help me along the way. Through what I can only describe as miracles, I found work as a farm laborer, child caretaker, and more during the year leading up to my departure for BYU. By the time I arrived in Provo, Utah, I had saved up almost $10,000. And I was 22, just like Rudy. It was a good thing I had been able to set aside all of that money because I would need every penny to make it through two long years.
I love the moment when Rudy first gets a shot at attending Holy Cross, and the first thing he does is take a tour of the Notre Dame campus. He notices that the chain locking the gate to the football field is loose enough to allow him to squeeze through, so he sneaks in and gets a glimpse of the field that he hopes to play on one day. That moment is definitely symbolic. All through the film he just manages to squeeze into Holy Cross, Notre Dame, the football team, and then into the final game of his college career. He always seems to be on the verge of failure, but he finds a way to pull off triumph after triumph.
I can relate. There were several times when my college career was in jeopardy, and I barely managed to eke by. I’ll discuss a few below.
Finding a Home
When Rudy starts attending college, he doesn’t have a place to live. All of his money goes to tuition, so he has to sneak into his employer’s office at night to have a place to sleep. His employer finds out and leaves a key for Rudy so he won’t have to climb in through the window anymore. After a while, Rudy manages to find his financial footing, but he couldn’t have done it without this incredible act of kindness.
My first problem when I arrived in Provo was where I would live. Unfortunately, I was a naïve kid back then, so I had signed a contract with a landlord before I even went down to Utah from Washington. And when I arrived at the house where I was going to live with seven other guys, my heart sank. It was a dive. The ceiling in the staircase was so low that I couldn’t walk down it without hitting my head. The power and gas had been shut off and I had no clue how to turn them back on (naïve, remember?).
I had come down a few weeks before the semester was scheduled to start, so no one else was there, yet. I camped out the first few nights, trying to figure out what to do. I knew this place was all wrong. I went around and saw an apartment building right behind the Provo City Library. I had a good feeling about that place, so I went in and talked to the manager. Even though I thought it was crazy at the time, I felt impressed to sign a contract there while I still had a contract at the other place. I didn’t know what I was going to do. I couldn’t afford to pay two rents every month. But providentially, I discovered a loophole in the agreement I had signed at the first place. If the house didn’t meet BYU’s living-standards requirements, my contract would be null and void. It turned out that the low staircase ceiling failed to meet BYU’s standards. So I was able to get out of that scary situation, and I learned a valuable lesson along the way.
A Promise Kept
Rudy’s best friend is killed in a steel-mill accident. This provides the impetus for Rudy to finally try to make it into Notre Dame. Later, after Rudy has proven himself as a valuable football player during practices, the coach of Notre Dame’s football team promises Rudy he can play at least one game during his senior year. However, that coach leaves the team before Rudy’s senior year, and the new coach doesn’t seem to know about his promise. Thankfully, Rudy’s teammates step in and ensure he gets his chance in the last game of the season.
Oddly enough, I have a story that relates to both of those events. During my first semester at BYU, I learned that the Fine Arts and Communications program had just added a new requirement for students applying for the program: they couldn’t have more than a certain number of college credits to be considered. Unfortunately, as a transfer student, I had already amassed two years’ worth of credits, so I was a bit over the limit. Thankfully, after hearing my story, the head of the Fine Arts and Communications program agreed to make an exception in my case. But before he could put that in writing he tragically died in a car accident. I hate to turn someone else’s death into being all about me, but his death put my college education in serious danger. I contacted the other administrators of the department and explained the situation to them and then I waited in suspense a few days until they got back to me. Luckily, they responded favorably to my messages and said they would honor the late department head’s promise to me. Thank goodness.
Making the Grade
Rudy struggles to get high enough grades to be admitted into Notre Dame. But after two years of trying his hardest and improving bit by bit, he finally gets the answer he’s been praying for and he makes it into the prestigious university.
I struggled with grades in different ways. I managed to stay close to a 4.0 GPA in my first year at BYU, which helped me keep my academic scholarship. However, my grades slipped a little (I got a B+ and A- in a few classes) at the start of my second year, and I saw my scholarship get cut in half. Suddenly I didn’t have enough money to finish my last few classes, so I had to get a student loan to tide me over. Thankfully, it was a small amount compared to other people’s student debt loads, and I paid it off by the time I had been out of school a year.
No Time Off
There are two interesting moments in Rudy that show how the main character doesn’t get any time off. When he comes home for Christmas after his first semester at Holy Cross, he’s welcomed coldly by some of his family members, and he winds up leaving in a huff just a few minutes after he arrives. The second time he returns home, it’s to tell his father that he’s been accepted to Notre Dame and he has to get back right away for football tryouts. One return is somber while the other is triumphant, but both are very brief.
A big reason why my grades slipped in my second year at BYU was that I didn’t take any time off from school. While other students went home or took full-time summer jobs, I took more classes. I did that because my scholarship allowed me to take them for free during the summer, as long as I took at least a certain amount. But the lack of time off started to grate on me. My resolve was pushed to the limit, but I just kept pushing until I made it to the finish line.
As a side note, I didn’t have much contact with my family while I was going to college. Between my part-time job, classes and attempts at going on dates, I had little time for anything else. I never attended a single sporting event the entire time I was at BYU. I spent a lot of time in the library and at the Fine Arts Center.
Rudy’s indomitable spirit sometimes leads to clashes with his teammates. They think that his dedication in the face of any opposition is a sign of foolish pride rather than an expression of his gratitude for being given a chance to be where he is. However, he eventually earns their respect and admiration.
I’m certainly not perfect. But I’ve discovered that I sometimes make people feel uncomfortable because I’m always trying to be polite and sincere in everything I do and say. Some people seem to think I’m looking down on them because of the way I treat them. When people ask me if I think I’m better than them because I don’t act the way they do, I try to defuse the tension by explaining that I’m just trying to be better all the time, and I compliment them on their own efforts to be great.
Anything Is Possible
To me, Rudy isn’t a sports movie. If it’s just a football movie, then Rocky is just a boxing movie. It’s really a touching drama with a little bit of sports in it. The main takeaway from the film is that Rudy’s life is forever changed not by playing on Notre Dame’s football team, but by becoming a better learner, earning a college degree, and strengthening his character.
I never participated in a sporting event at college, had everyone in a crowd shout my name again and again or got to tackle someone in the last play of my college career, like Rudy did. I just quietly went about learning and growing at BYU. I overcame my shyness and learned to be a wonderful friend to everyone I met, including the woman who later became my wife. I’m now a great speaker, and I carry on fun, friendly conversations with the best of them. I still have much to learn, but I’m excited to be better every day.
College isn’t for everyone, but if you have the right attitude and you’re willing to trust in a higher power, anything is possible.
This is the Deja Reviewer bidding you farewell until we meet again.
All photos from Rudy are the copyright of Columbia Tristar Pictures.