Historical Essay No. 67

Posted on 03 February 2011 by LeslieM

How I made it to college!

In the spring of 1959, my senior year at Pompano Beach Senior High School was rapidly coming to a close. I had applied to the University of Florida in Gainesville, the University of California at Davis and Stetson University in Deland, Florida, and they had all accepted me into their mechanical engineering programs. I had assumed, with Principal Walden’s encouragement, that I would get the substantial scholarship offered to an engineering student from Pompano High each year by a certain unnamed benefactor. However, about a month before graduation, Principal Walden called me into the office to let me know that the benefactor had decided instead to give the scholarship to one of my classmates who was planning to study electrical engineering.

When I got home that night, I shared the bad news with my parents and apologized to Dad saying, “I hope you’ve got some money to send me to college.” Dad looked surprised and blurted out “I don’t think you need to go to college. You’re a good machinist. You can stay here and make good money as a machinist.”

I reminded Dad about the big pump project our company had lost to a sugar company in Belle Glade because we didn’t have a graduate engineer on staff. Although our prices were the best, they gave the job to a company that had professional engineers on staff to certify the product.

I told Dad, “I don’t want to ever be in that position again wherein a potential customer doesn’t buy from us for that reason. I intend to get an engineering degree and ultimately a professional engineering license, so that kind of thing can never happen again.” Looking exasperated, he said, “Well, good luck. But I don’t have the money to send you to college.”

Taken aback, I went to bed and prayed. The next day, I went to Principal Walden and told him what happened. He responded with compassion saying, “David, I’m so sorry. Don’t you worry. I’m going to get on the phone today and see if I can get you some scholarship money! Come see me in two days.”

I knew he had good news when I walked into his office two days later. “Come on in, David,” he said with a big smile on his face. “I’ve got your whole engineering education planned out for you. My alma mater, Stetson University has agreed to give you a substantial scholarship to their pre-engineering program — they co-operate with the University of Florida. You can go there for two years and then enter the University of Florida as an upper classman. I’ve arranged two other scholarships, one local and one from the State of Florida, to make up the rest of your financial needs as long as you maintain high academic standards.”

Impressed, happy and surprised, I jumped up to give him a hug as he stuck out his hand instead, which I grabbed and shook with both hands. “Thank you, thank you, thank you, Mr. Walden, I will never let you down,” I said.

I didn’t let him down and graduated a few years later from the University of Florida with an engineering degree and a minor in business. The fellow who was awarded the original engineering scholarship by the unnamed benefactor ended up flunking out of college. It seems he was great in math and science classes, but could not spell or write very well.

By my second year, my father relented and bought me a new car and helped pay expenses.

David Eller, Publisher

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