When Kyrone Tackled Risk and Naivety (revisited)
Challenges That Never End
Being there was the most important part of Kyrone's life at that time.
Even though he was on a new campus in a new dorm ready to meet his new roommate, Tom, Kyrone felt he belonged.
He had already moved in and had looked at Tom's name on the front of the door, trying to imagine how to pronounce Strachan, his last name.
Tom first entered Kyrone's dorm room as he sat on the edge of his bed on the side of the room he had chosen. Tom carefully placed a suitcase, an ROTC uniform and sparkling, black boots beside the bed opposite Kyrone's.
Tom turned to shake hands, and Kyrone stood to meet a tall, straight, fit man with blue eyes and a crew cut of red hair. In response, Kyrone felt himself trying to stand straighter, but Tom still towered over him. Confident handshake, Kyrone noted.
"Hi, I'm Tom," he said matter-of-factly. "You're Kyrone, right?"
Tom didn't wait for an answer.
"There must be some mistake, here," he said calmly. "Last spring, my buddy and I made arrangements to room together this year."
Tom gave Kyrone a quick glance and eyed Kyrone's full closet on the opposite side of the room.
"Let me check with the house fellow," Tom was saying. "I'll be back ..."
He shut the door behind him, and Kyrone sat there, wondering what to do with a roommate who did not want to be his roommate.
Kyrone had met his house fellow, Pete, the day before. A pipe smoker, Pete looked older than most of the guys on the floor. He was a psychology major, was tough-looking and had a serious side about him that only occasionally broke into a faint grin.
How did they pair up roommates, anyway? Was it the luck of the draw? Or, did someone put some thought into the process? Kyrone didn't know.
It was September 1963, and fall classes were about to begin at the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus. As a junior, Kyrone was a transfer student from Platteville State, a much smaller campus in the southwestern part of Wisconsin.
Three years earlier, he was among the 50 percent of high school students who were annually denied admission to the Madison campus. So, he took a detour and, for two years, attended Platteville, temporarily putting aside his dream of graduating from the University of Wisconsin-Madison -- a vision that had driven him since seventh grade.
Platteville was a former teacher college with a mining and engineering school that attracted both foreign and domestic students and was quite cosmopolitan despite its size. Still, friends had questioned why Kyrone was transferring to the Madison campus, which had a reputation for being tougher academically.
He knew he could do it, but he needed to be focused. His goal was to graduate in two years with a journalism major and advertising minor (not available at Platteville) so he could get a job as a copywriter in a Chicago advertising agency.
Kyrone was ready for the Madison campus. But, was Tom ready for him?
“The willingness to show up changes us. It makes us a little braver each time.” ― Brené Brown
Tom opened the door, bringing in another suitcase, which he placed beside the bed.
"I can move," Kyrone found himself saying, at once not at all satisfied with his deferent behavior. "If you made other arrangements, I could find another roommate."
Kyrone imagined his dad kicking his butt for being so weak and compliant.
"No, that's not necessary," Tom replied, as he began unpacking.
"You sure you don't want to switch roommates?" Kyrone had to ask again.
"No," Tom said firmly. "My buddy's just down the hall. Besides, I don't know how long he'll be here. Don and I are in ROTC together. He's worried things in Vietnam are going to clear up before he graduates and gets his chance for a tour of duty over there. He's talking about quitting school after this first semester so he can go to Vietnam."
Tom placed his ROTC boots in the far corner of his open closet.
"Let's see," he said softly, almost to himself, as he hung up his uniform. He then looked Kyrone in the eye. "Let's see how it works out."
It was a risk. But it did work out – even though Kyrone was a Martin Luther King fan from Beloit and Tom was a Barry Goldwater conservative from Mequon. Yes, the two had never grown close and had lost touch with each other over the years. But they learned to understand and value each other back then. And, together. they pulled off no small accomplishment that Kyrone, now 78, still values.
Kyrone became the first black student to reside in Sullivan Hall on campus. It was six years before the University of Wisconsin's 1969 Black Student Strike in Madison, a campus-wide call for administrators to meet 13 bold demands -- none of which (to Kyrone's surprise) called for de-segregated housing for black students.
Now, more than 60 years later, Kyrone is now asking himself two questions:
Why were he and his classmates so naive back then about vulnerability, race, war and politics?
Why, in the 21st Century, have segregated dorms for black students on some university campuses become a good idea among black folks when one of the goals of higher education is to expand one's horizons in thought and acquaintance?
Perhaps, he admits, he still is naive – and still needs to take an occasional risk.
Kyrone's takeaway tip from his story: Use elderhood’s perspective to challenge current whims.
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