Have you ever seen the movie, “Rudy?” If not, I highly recommend it. It was released in 1993 and stars Sean Astin, very inspirational. It tells the true story of a young man’s dream to play football for Notre Dame, against all odds…and I mean ALL odds.
Mid-way through the movie, you witness the pivotal scene where Rudy gets a letter, for the fourth semester in a row, from the Notre Dame Admissions office. Three rejections have preceded it and Rudy nervously sits on a park bench, holding the unopened letter.
I sat in a dark movie theater one afternoon and watched this movie alone. As I watched the movie unfold and with it, Rudy’s dream…..it touched a nerve. I was a police officer and had reached the rank of sergeant, supervising an entire shift, composed of all men. It dawned on me that I was not happy, I was 32 years old and had abandoned my dream.
My path to get to this moment of clarity was quite different from what you would expect. I have written, in earlier posts, that I thought about being a cop as a child, but I started college as a pre-med major. I wanted to be a doctor until my junior year when I hit organic chemistry….the law, the law sounded good at that point, my professor agreed!
I worked my way through Texas Woman’s University by working at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport. You know the parking booths that take your money as you exit? I worked the midnight shift there in the early 80s. I would sit in the booth and do my homework, with minimal interruptions, from scant motorists. I would leave the job at 7 a.m. and travel to Denton for day classes, sleeping in the evenings.
A funny thing happens when all the forces in the world align for you….Kismet they call it. Switching to criminal justice as a junior and picking up a Constitutional law-book was THE moment of Kismet for me. Like taking a deep breath and truly tasting sweet air for the first time. No wonder I sucked at organic chemistry!
I spent countless nights in the toll booth, with a small heater, blowing stale warm air at my face, as I studied. I loved all the work that my professors threw at me. It didn’t matter if it was a paper on adult corrections or modern law enforcement…I always finished wanting more. I didn’t think about being a police officer at that point, law school was the goal.
After 3 years of motorists bitching about parking fees and inhabiting my own claustrophobic cell, I left DFW Airport. My sister owned a deli, in a suburb of Fort Worth, and I dropped in one day for a sandwich. I overheard two cops, in the next booth, discussing a 911 dispatcher opening at their department. I applied that day and got the job the following week. So long motorists, say hello 40 foot tall Jesus!
Yes, I said hello 40 foot tall Jesus. On the first week on the job, I handled a four fatality, car accident and Mrs. Miller. Mrs. Miller was a regular caller to the department and liked to talk about seeing Jesus in her backyard. I played along with her, she seemed to like that. No use in filing charges on an eighty-nine year old woman, for 911 abuse, just because she liked to chat it up with the big guy.
I was a dispatcher for about 12 months, then the department sent me to the police academy. I finished police training and my B.S. in Criminal Justice in close proximity. I decided to be a cop after listening to one year of people having all the fun on the other end of my radio transmissions. That and reading the atrocious police reports that came across my desk to type. Good grief, where did these guys go to school? I thought, “I could do this job, I could write a better report than this!!”
I worked in about every capacity you can, on my way to becoming a patrol sergeant. I gained my stripes, and war stories with hard work…..all because I didn’t want to sit in a parking booth or type other people’s reports….but my dream was fading.
I took a week vacation and took the law school entrance exam. What is the problem with that I asked myself? Take it and see how you measure up… go from there. My grade point average in under grad was not pristine. Lack of sleep was not something that made me aspire to graduating with “summa cum laude” after my name.
Was law school something I could even think about at this time? I had a good paying position, could I walk away to chase a dream? My score came back competitive, but it didn’t send me doing cartwheels in my yard. Time to load up my gear and go to work…. my dream was placed nicely in an old shoe box, along with my test report.
Two years passed until the day I found myself sitting in that dark theater watching Rudy with his fourth letter. He opened it up and read the words, “we are pleased to accept…”
The good news sends him sprinting to go tell his dad about his acceptance to Notre Dame. I won’t ruin the rest of the movie for those of you yet to see it, but Rudy woke me up.
A new law school had opened up in my home town and became my focus. I owned a home and could not feasibly pick up and move out-of-town. My attempt to get into law school would ride on one application. If it was truly meant to be for me…surely they would accept me. I was wrong. The rejection letter was received in quick turn-around. I imagined the admissions board passing my packet around and sharing a good laugh at my expense. I imagined 20 years of law enforcement and an unfulfilled dream.
Even though it was a new law school, they routinely got about 2000 applicants each year for a class that would be approximately 220. Mind you these applicants are not under-achievers…a lot of them do have those Greek honors after their names, getting in would not be easy.
I grew another year older and continued to chase bad guys every night. The time rolled around to try it again and I put together another application packet. One of the requirements of the law school was for each applicant to write a letter expressing why they feel they should be accepted. What do you think I wrote? If you guessed a war story, you would be correct.
I poured out my heart, I wrote about my friend Officer Ross getting shot and my participation in the arrest of the shooter. I wrote about my beginnings and how I found my way to criminal law….I wrote about my profound desire to become an advocate for others….then I waited.
I collected my mail that day and noticed the return address of the law school. My hands started shaking as I walked to my backyard. I sat down on a lawn chair and started watching the trees as they swayed in the breeze. I laughed a nervous laugh remembering Rudy on the park bench. Well, look at me…no movie music in the background this time. I feared my dream would float away, on that same breeze, with a second rejection.
I ripped the envelope and saw the words I had longed to read….”we are pleased to offer you a seat in the next class…!!”
I would like to tell you that I went running off down the street, as the music crescendoed, and the credits rolled or that I had a vision of a 40 foot tall Jesus…but that did not happen…this was reality folks, come on!!
I did run around the backyard yelling and crying like a happy fool for a full five minutes. And then a couple of days later I drove out to the DFW airport. I drove from the north end to the south, a fifty cent fee at that time. I gave the girl who took my ticket a fifty-dollar bill, told her to keep the change, and told her to never give up on her dreams. She looked at me like I was a freak and opened up the gate for my exit….she shoulda seen the movie.