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|Dedicated to Santa Clara: Reaching Out follows Jiménez’s first two memoirs, The Circuit and Breaking Through. |
During my junior year I had begun taking required education courses to become a teacher. Father Louis Bannan, from whom I took Psychology of Education, encouraged me to pursue a high school teaching career. He was gentle and kind and he taught by continually asking questions, which engaged us in heated but respectful discussions. My plans to become a high school teacher, however, were changed a few months before graduation.
The fall quarter of my senior year, I received a letter in the campus mail from Professor Bernard Kronick, chairman of the political science department and director of fellowships, informing me that I had been nominated by the University for a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship. He asked that I come by his office to pick up the application form. After my afternoon class, I went to see him.
He was a short, stocky man with glasses and was bald over the front and top of his head. He loosened his tie and took off his tight-fitting sport coat and draped it over the back of his chair. “Congratulations, Frank,” he said, leaning forward and handing me a large envelope. “This is the application form you need to fill out.”
“Thank you.” I took the envelope and placed it on my lap.
“The Woodrow Wilson Fellowship program is designed to encourage college graduates to consider college teaching as a career.”
“But I am planning to teach high school.”
“Have you thought of teaching at the college level?”
“No.” I shook my head.
“Well, you shouldn’t rule it out. As I said, these national fellowships are to encourage bright students, like you, to pursue college teaching. Think about it.”
“I will,” I responded halfheartedly, glancing down at the thick envelope.
I thanked him and went back to my room, sat at my desk, and opened the envelope. I read through the application, thinking, I am not smart enough to teach in college. That evening, after closing the language lab, I told Laura about being nominated for the fellowship.
“That’s wonderful. Congratulations!”
When I told her that I wasn’t sure I should apply, that the application was really long and I didn’t have time to fill it out, she said, “You’ve got to be kidding!”
I remained silent for a few seconds as she patiently waited for a response. I glanced at her and then looked down and said, “I don’t think I have a chance.”
“Of course you do,” she said, smiling. “Why would the university nominate you if you didn’t?” Suddenly I felt more weight on my shoulders. “If you don’t apply, you won’t get the fellowship,” she added.
I worked on the application every day for several days. I wrote a personal statement describing my childhood experiences and explaining why I wanted to be a teacher. I asked Fr. Shanks, Dr. Vari, and Fr. O’Neil for letters of recommendation. A few weeks later, after I had mailed the application, I received a letter from the Woodrow Wilson Foundation informing me that I was a regional finalist.
I felt happy but, again, worried. The possibility of going to graduate school for a doctorate scared me. When I found out that I had an interview the following week at Stanford University where the regional finalists were being screened, I felt even more tense. I rushed to see Fr. O’Neil to tell him about it.
“Good for you,” he said, in his soft, raspy voice. He stood up and shook my hand. “Good for you,” he repeated. He sat down slowly and placed his trembling hands on his lap.
“I am worried about the interview. I don’t think I’ll do well.”
“Of course you will. You have to be confident. Remember, God is on your side. You should dress nicely. Wear the suit Mrs. Hancock gave you.”
“It’s too big,” I said. Even though it had been two years, I still couldn’t get her husband’s pinstriped suit to fit.
“Oh…it doesn’t matter,” he said thoughtfully. “Just be sure to wear a tie.” He got up slowly, moved behind his desk chair, and braced himself on the back of it with both hands. “Can you do me a favor and accompany me to Macy’s at Valley Fair? I need to buy some socks. It won’t take long.”
“Sure. I’d be happy to.” I wondered why he invited me, but I thought it would be disrespectful to say no. As we headed to the Jesuit parking lot in the back of Varsi, I noticed he leaned slightly forward and his shoulders drooped a bit more than they had the year before.
|Spiritual advisor: Bartholomew L. O’Neil, S.J., offered Jiménez counsel and bought him a new suit. |
Photo: California Jesuit Archives
“I’m not sure.”
“Here, try this one on.” He took a blue suit jacket off the rack. “It’s a forty regular.”
“Oh, I can’t afford to buy a suit.”
“It doesn’t cost anything to try it on. Try it.” He grabbed on to the side of the rack as I slipped it on.
“It’s too long.” I looked at the price tag and frowned.
He caught my eye, smiled, and shook his head.
“You must wear a thirty-eight short.” He rifled through the row of suits with his right hand while holding on to the top of the rack with his left one. “Here’s one! It’s light green. Do you like it?” At this point I suspected that he was going to offer to buy it for me.
“Yes,” I said, trying on the jacket. It fit perfectly. I grabbed the hanger and hung the jacket back with the trousers. I was about to place the suit back on the rack when Father O’Neil snatched it from me.
“You’re wearing this to your interview,” he said firmly. ‘‘I’m buying it for you.”
I was speechless, even though I had guessed he wanted to buy it. My eyes welled up as I looked up at him. Giving me time to compose myself, he added, “Actually, I am not exactly buying it. The Jesuit community is.”
After what seemed an eternity, I finally said, “Thank you, Father. I’m sorry I don’t have the words to tell you how much I appreciate this.”
“You’re welcome. Someday, you’ll do the same for someone else.”
I had the suit pants tailored to fit, and two days later, Fr. O’Neil and I picked them up at Macy’s. He also bought me a white shirt and tie to match the suit. When we returned to his office, he gave me an apple and an orange and a set of plain square-shaped, gold-colored cufflinks.
“I want you to have these,” he said, grinning. “I’ve had them for years. I have another pair.”
I thanked him several times. As I was about to leave, he added, “Don’t forget—keep your head up. You’ll do just fine in your interview. Trust in God.”
The day of the interview, I was as nervous as I had been the first day of classes my freshman year. I felt sick to my stomach. I attended early-morning Mass at the Mission Church and had a slice of toast with strawberry jam and a cup of tea for breakfast. After my two morning classes, I went back to my room, put on my new suit, had a light lunch in Benson, and drove to Stanford University in Ernie DeGasparis’ Volkswagen, which I had borrowed from him the night before.
The closer I got to Stanford, the more anxious I became. The entrance to the campus was lined with palm trees, just like the entrance to the University of Santa Clara. I parked the car near a cluster of eucalyptus trees, which smelled like sweet gum. Their distinct odor reminded me of the time my family and I first arrived in Santa Maria from Mexico when I was four years old. We had only seven dollars and no place to stay, so we spent the night on a bed of leaves underneath eucalyptus trees. I closed my eyes for a few seconds. This feels like a dream, I thought to myself.
I climbed out of the car and followed the directions to the quad, which had sandstone arches all around. I entered the main door to the History Corner and spotted a small sign that read WOODROW WILSON INTERVIEWS, RM. 105. I took a deep breath, wiped my clammy hands on the sides of my coat, straightened my clip-on tie, and knocked on the door.
A tall, thin man wearing a navy blue suit came out, greeted me, and introduced himself as Dr. Otis Pease. I remembered his name because it registered in my mind as Dr. Chícharos, the Spanish word for peas; however, I was so nervous that I did not learn the names of the other two men, who were also wearing suits and were very friendly. I sat at a rectangular wooden table facing them with my feet wrapped around the legs of the chair to stop my legs from shaking. Dr. Pease, the chairman of the interview committee, began by commenting on my grades. “Your academic record is impressive,” he said, opening a folder and glancing at it. “You have a 3.8 GPA overall in your last two years and a 3.9 in your major. Now tell us about yourself and why you’re interested in a teaching career.”
|Graduation day: Francisco Jiménez ’66 with friend Emily Bernabé ’67, his future wife, Laura Facchini ’67; and Emily’s mother, Juanita Bernabé |
Courtesy Francisco Jiménez
A few days later, I received a letter from Hans Rosenhaupt, the national director of the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation.
The Selection Committee which interviewed you has recommended you for an award and the National Selection Committee has accepted the recommendation. I am happy to offer you a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship for the academic year 1966-1967.
Since only 1,400 Fellows were elected this year from over 13,000 carefully chosen nominees, this election demonstrates great confidence in your promise as a teacher and scholar…
I could not believe it. I read the letter twice to make sure it was addressed to me. I said a prayer before the image of the Virgen de Guadalupe tacked above my desk and dashed out of my room to thank and share the good news with those close to me.
Francisco Jiménez is the Fay Boyle Professor of Modern Languages and Literature at SCU.