Anyone who’s ever been involved with UCLA in any way, shape, or form knows what this building is. Photo courtesy of knock-la.com
MY CELEBRATION OF BEING A PART OF MY DREAM INSTITUTION OF HIGHER LEARNING AS A STUDENT, ALUMNUS, AND A BRUIN SPORTS FAN FOR THIRTY YEARS
Saturday, February 13, 1988.
I was at home in Santa Monica, CA, killing the afternoon by watching The Buddy Holly Story, the biopic starring Gary Busey as the rock and roll pioneer from Lubbock, TX who, along with Ritchie Valens and J.B. “The Big Bopper” Richardson, tragically met their fates riding in a small plane on an Iowa cornfield.
The mail came through the slot in the door, which included a thick manila envelope addressed to me.
The contents in that envelope would, at the risk of sounding clichéd and corny, change my life as the letter accompanying the contents said…
“Congratulations! We are pleased to offer you admission to UCLA’s College of Letters and Science…Your application has shown that you are capable of doing college level work.”
To say that UCLA was my dream school would be an understatement, and not just because my mother attended there in the late 60s and early 70s, thus explaining my initial exposure to that place.
And though it was a fair-sized factor, it wasn’t just because I was a big fan of the Bruin football and basketball teams either, the football team in particular in those days as they enjoyed a peak during the 80s, chock full of triumphs over crosstown rival USC and Rose Bowl wins.
Which gave me some nice bragging rights over my ‘SC friends in high school.
As I progressed through high school and Santa Monica College – my high school career wasn’t very good – UCLA didn’t seem to be a realistic goal as horror stories of students with straight A’s getting turned down and the ones that did get accepted suffering through seemingly impossibly high standards in their classes abounded.
The UCLA Bruin Marching Band, where I was a member from 1988-1991. Photo courtesy of alchetron.com
Though I did significantly better at SMC, considered one of the best community colleges, what with me getting into Alpha Gamma Sigma (the honor society) and being elected president of the University of California Club – we took a tour of U.C. Berkeley and U.C. Santa Cruz the weekend before – and although I did apply to UCLA and U.C. Santa Barbara, where my mother wanted me to go to,
I had no expectation whatsoever of matriculating in Westwood, as I fully expected to transfer to Cal State Northridge.
So when I got that thick envelope and that “Congratulations” letter, what with me dancing around the living room like an idiot singing the fight song (I didn’t know the words yet) and calling a close friend of mine as well as my grandmother and mother, who was staying with grandma that weekend, to read that congrats letter,
And subsequently photocopying it to give to certain teachers and friends, writing on it, “Well, aren’t you shocked?!”,
Let’s put it like this…
Getting accepted to, attending, and eventually obtaining my bachelor’s degree from UCLA is akin to the nerdiest, dweebiest boy in the 1950s asking Marilyn Monroe to be his girlfriend.
Or the geekiest guy today asking Beyonce to dump Jay-Z and marry him.
And Marilyn and Beyonce saying yes!
That was exactly how I felt when I got that thick envelope from UCLA’s admissions office in Murphy Hall, as I made my induction into Bruin Nation official when I signed my Statement of Intent to Register on the kitchen table that sunny afternoon.
Looking back, I should have known that I had gotten into UCLA due to the information about housing and various other programs that were mailed to me in the days before I got that big letter; that should have tipped me off, but that’s neither here nor there.
A part of what first attracted me to UCLA: the school colors as shown on these game-worn jerseys from the 1980s. Photo courtesy of sports.ha.com
Fast forward seven months:
After taking a political science and writing class in UCLA Transfer Summer Program and joining the Bruin Marching Band, playing tenor saxophone and taking part in their week-long band camp where I learned the fight songs and lots of other UCLA stuff,
Though I can’t remember the exact date, I remember the first class I walked into that fall quarter, a sociology class which included none other than superstar quarterback, eventual Super Bowl champion and pro football hall of famer Troy Aikman.
Thus started my thirty years as a full-fledged, card-carrying member of UCLA’s Bruin Nation, with my student days being spent in the marching band, where I flew on a plane for the first time – to Dallas, TX for the Cotton Bowl – saw roughly 90% of the football games at the Rose Bowl (which certainly gave me a thrill to be on the field of that iconic stadium) and home basketball games in Pauley Pavilion, and (again, at the risk of sounding clichéd and corny) made friends whom I’m still friends with today.
It was those friends who, after I achieved what I consider the biggest achievement of my life in getting my degree in history in 1991, got me to join the UCLA Alumni Band that fall, my first game being (unfortunately) a 27-24 loss to Cal.
And it is through the UCLA Alumni Band that I have been able to stay involved with UCLA and Bruin Nation, as I reckon I have played my tenor sax at roughly 175 football games and fifty women’s gymnastics meets; that band has played for that Bruin gymnastics team since 2003.
I have met countless well-known Bruin folks, had classes with basketball standout Tracy Murray and softball legend Lisa Fernandez along with Aikman during my student days, and consider football games at the Rose Bowl – as well as the alumni band – my own personal Kiwanis Club of sorts, seeing kids grow up and have kids of their own among other things.
The jacket I used to wear all the time during my college days, especially while I matriculated in Westwood. Photo courtesy of worthpoint.com
Not to mention having the pleasure of witnessing significant UCLA football triumphs such as:
- The wins over USC in 1996, 2006, and 2012 in particular, the ’96 triumph the only game in the Crosstown Rivalry that went overtime and the ’06 win being the rivalry’s biggest upset, knocking ‘SC out of the national championship game,
- An exciting win over a very highly ranked Washington team in 1997, and,
- Big victories over such elite powerhouses as Miami in 1995, Texas in 1998, Alabama and Michigan – where it was 110 degrees and fifteen people had to go to the hospital for heat exhaustion – in 2000, Ohio State in 2001 (about a week after the 9-11 attacks), Oklahoma in 2005, and Nebraska in 2012.
Of course I must mention the 1995 Ed O’ Bannon and Tyus Edney-led basketball title in 1995; I went to the celebration rally in Pauley a few days later, and to this day I haven’t heard that building be as loud since.
As well as the huge stand that the UCLA and Oklahoma gymnastics teams took against sexual earlier this year after their epic meet, which I saw, that was very memorable even though the Bruins lost the meet by the smallest of margins; don’t worry, we paid OU back and won the national championship two months later in a Hollywood-style epic fashion.
And how can I write an article like this without mentioning meeting the greatest coach in the history of sports, John Wooden, and getting his autograph on a program as a student in the band (which I still have!) and on the front page of one of his many books?
I could go on and on; if I wrote about every UCLA experience that I have had, it would end up becoming a full-sized book.
My main point is this…
I know it’s a cliché, but it’s quite difficult for me to believe that I have been a member of UCLA’s Bruin Nation for three full decades.
The time has gone by warp-speed fast, seemingly (I know, another cliché!).
To say that it has been, and will continue to be, a great time; well, that should go without saying.
I only hope that the next thirty years are as good as the first thirty years.
And maybe, just maybe, I can have the pleasure of seeing that Bruin football team win a national championship one day.
Oh, before I go, I have to mention two things that I wish I would have done while a UCLA student – I won’t call them regrets:
- Taken more political science classes, as I liked to debate issues, and,
- Tried out for the baseball team; I would have been among the first ones cut because of my weak throwing arm (though I could hit some), but at least I could have said that I tried.
I’ve always liked this view of UCLA and downtown L.A. Spectacular, isn’t it? Photo courtesy of sustain.ucla.edu