Dawn Tolbert

Writer
#366Days Bravery

All Because of Bloom County #366Days Day 62

cartoon of a newspaper

Today is one of my all-time favorite days of the year. Nope, it’s not Christmas or my birthday or any official holiday. But it is scholarship interview day.

It’s so much fun to see the interviewees — outstanding high school kids and amazing people — on campus, hoping to do well in the interviews and land a coveted competitive academic scholarship.

I remember the day I interviewed for a Presidential Scholarship at Gardner-Webb like it was yesterday. I can still picture the outfit I wore and the awesome heels we found at a shoe store on the way. I remember the committee I interviewed with very well.

One — the scariest to me at the time — was the head of the Communication department that I so wanted to be part of. I had no idea that he would become a dear friend and lifelong mentor. He was one of the first people I called after I passed my dissertation defense and was officially Dr. Tolbert.

But on that day — dare I admit that it was 28 years ago!! — he was unknown. Just an Amish-looking beard and an intimidating brilliance. I was an eager young thing — probably scared of my own shadow, but wanting to be brave and to find a place where I could grow. The youngest of three children — and, in my mind at the time, the lesser of three — I had decided to get away from home for college — like four and a half hours away. And I knew Gardner-Webb was the right place for me as soon as I walked on campus.

And here I was, facing a committee led by the very man I needed to impress. The other committee members were Dr. Sue Camp (no relation), who served on the business faculty, and a religion professor who’d left campus for another post before I arrived there the next fall. His name escapes me at the moment, but I remember him most.

The questions covered a wide range of topics, from my background to what brought me to Gardner-Webb to one sentence I wrote in my Admissions essay: “Gardner-Webb will be my home for the next four years, and I expect quite a lot from it.” They liked the commitment that showed, I was told, and we talked about what life at GWC would be like. And then it happened, Stowe — the communications department chair I mentioned — zeroed in on my love of newspapers. I’d indicated my goal was writing for a newspaper, so he asked, quite logically, for me to tell him the first thing I turned to when I opened the newspaper.

My mind instantly produced several answers and was weighing which one might sound best. Should I show my newshound side or try to be intellectual? Was there a right answer? I decided to go for honesty and replied simply, “Bloom County.”

The third professor — still not remembering his name…Rick something? — slammed his pen on the table and jumped to his feet.

“That’s it! That’s it!” In my memory, he is definitely yelling.

I thought my heart might explode, and then he added, “She gets all 10!,” referring to the scholarships.

The committee members roared with laughter. You see, little did I know that his office was plastered with Bloom County cartoons and, apparently, there was no answer I could have given that could have made a better impression.

I didn’t walk away with all 10 scholarships, but I did find out a bit later that I got one of them. And I left with an amazing memory that still makes me smile nearly — gulp — three decades later.

I try to remember that more often than not it’s best to just be myself.

2 Comment

  1. I love this story Dawn!!!! I cannot believe we have not talked about this before! I love that you remember it like it was yesterday even though it was 28 years ago. The head of the comm department you so reminisce about so fondly reminds me of my freshman English professor at Canisius. As you know, like you, I was in love with writing (and history come to that) and English was my favorite class. Dr. Barbara Porter and I became fast friends and she even came out to see my horse one day. Years later, when I got a job in higher education, I emailed her to say hello and tell her I had found my calling as a web designer for a university. She was thrilled and recounted to me her memories of me bright-eyed and bushy tailed sitting in the front of her classroom, always the first to raise my hand. She even remembered my horse!! And it was she that I emailed when I got my Masters last year.

    Thank you for sharing this story! I very much enjoyed it and it made me think of Dr. Porter. She later became chair of the department and I’m sure it could not have been in better hands. 🙂

    1. Wow. I can’t believe we haven’t talked about it earlier. I can’t say enough about the importance of Stowe’s belief in me. So thankful to have had that influence and glad you did too from Dr. Porter. 🙂

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