Why The Generals

Towards the end of his McCallie years, Ansel Head knew he had learned all that the authorities could put in front of him. Along the way, there had been small glimmers of a practical education which had seeped through the lock-downed religious walls surrounding the cadets, but the brief glimpses were woefully inadequate for educating the would be leaders of the opening salvo of the baby boomer onslaught entering colleges.

Attending college was a given. His father had proclaimed only one requirement in selecting a new home for higher learning: “You are not going to the University of Alabama”. His father, who had grown up next door in Tuscaloosa, had concluded that there was too much practical education available at his Alma Mater for a naive novice just escaping a fundamental Presbyterian monastery. Never said though clearly known was the exclusion of Auburn from any consideration; that had been a given since before Head’s birth.

Head had consistently scored poorly on verbal SAT’s, in the mid 400’s, despite his graduating near the top of his class. There was something unsolved about the word games and the obfuscated articles which first required understanding then answers to confounding questions; these tests had left him tormented, bewildered, and sensing inadequacy. Misfits, scoring higher, compounded his anxiety.

Yale University

The burdensome education, the monastic life, the countless hours memorizing this then that, nothing had prepared him for the standardized multiple choice questionnaire which could dictate his station in society. He consoled himself with the notion that the SAT’s only reflected one’s intelligence if one scored well, but meant nothing if one scored poorly. Unfortunately colleges were not so enlightened.

Yale, where his superior brother and uncle had graduated, was his “reach” choice. The school and its people were known to him. At his pre-war brother’s commencement the summer before his last year at McCallie, Head had stayed in his brother’s room while his brother’s friends enjoyed their last night together. Like his father, his much older brother had decided there was too much practical education being displayed in the festivities to include his thought-to-be religious brother; he had ordered cadet Head to bed before the real party started. Head acquiesced; after surveying the crowd, he knew there was little he wanted to learn from Yalies.

George Washington

Head’s preference was the small, elite, but never visited Washington and Lee University in the historic Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. Its very name evoked the Southern heritage of its founder, George Washington, and its most famous president, Robert E. Lee. Instead of the cold, gothic makeup of Yale, W&L marketed its traditional white ante-bellum columns, broad green lawns, and an honor code which his Yalie brother had disparaged as archaic and pointless.

Both were all male so either would make the transition to practical learning controlled and manageable.

Head knew nothing more about the colleges than that and had given his selection no more thought than that brief analysis had required. Assured of his own importance, he prepared the applications, completed the essays on why he wanted to go to each college, and placed his future in the hands of strangers who knew nothing more of him than the contents of a file folder. It was perilous times with lasting consequences or so he had been gullible enough to believe.

Robert E. Lee

At the last moment, his brother, who was at Yale law school, called, “I can get you accepted here if you will come.” All along Head had wanted the Yale invitation for no reason other than to overcome his lack of superiority following the SAT debacles. He had had to tell his brother the truth. Two weeks later, he received his “regrets” letter from Yale and his “happy” letter from Washington and Lee.

Head would always wonder what would have happened if he had told his brother “Yes”.

Sunrise From The Colonnade at Washington & Lee
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