College Preparation

My school life at Highland was much interrupted by these various adventures in teaching, business, and canvassing. I did, however, attend the sessions of Highland “University” when not otherwise occupied, and by the time I was twenty years old had acquired, notwithstanding the interruptions, enough literature, history, science, and mathematics, and enough of the classics, except Greek, to admit me to the freshman class of the University of Rochester. Also, I had French, botany, and some other credits to spare.

The school life at Highland was better in some respects than the preparatory and early college life of the boys of today. We had no gymnasium and no organized athletics. We played “shinny,” a sort of polo without ponies, and baseball, then in its crude and formative stage. Of other games we knew little or nothing. We had no great and splendid groups of buildings, no long line of distinguished alumni, presidents, professors, and trustees. We had none of the pride of age or wealth. But we were there for mental work, not play, or amusement, or institutional prestige, and we did not suffer from the distractions of hippodrome collegiate contests, or wildly exaggerated athletics.

There was not much rivalry among the students. If there were marks, I do not recall them, nor do I remember that what my standing might be in any of my classes ever occurred to me. We had no prizes and, with the exception of the commencement valedictory, no honors. At Highland University we studied hard and our work was sincere and serious.

One slight distinction I won at Highland, which I may mention as having had some effect on my character. There was a sharp line of cleavage at that time running through the student body and out into the community, a line of separation which grew only sharper with time. The division was geographical, with historic implications. Roughly, it was between the Kansas and the Missourians, between the old University as it was, and the Missouri element that, like a new swarm, had come into the old hive. It drew the line between the teachers and students with the Northern culture and ideals, and the teachers and students with the Southern life and ideals. It was the old line of bleeding Kansas between the Bushwhackers and the Jayhawkers. I was of course on the side of the North, of Kansas, and of the old local folk, and was in fact, without realizing it, fully put forth to be the student leader on that side. I organized under the covert guidance of our faction in the faculty, who slyly put me forward to do it, a rival literary society. The Missourians belonged to the Erodelphian Society, our side now organized the Philomathean. These societies had annual public contests in essay, oratory, and debate, with qualified judges from neighboring towns. In one of these I represented the Philomatheans in the oration which counted four. As the time drew near, however, it became evident that our debater was bound to fail. His part counted three. In fact, as the day drew near he fell into a state of blue funk and, three days before the debate, under plea of illness, he threw up the whole thing. As we had no one else, his part necessarily fell to me. It meant three points, and as the essay counted only for two, I had on our side to sustain seven points out of a possible nine. The subject of debate, by the way, was Woman Suffrage, and I had the negative. With such generous help as Father and Mother could give me and a good book by Dr. Bushnell on the negative, having already finished and committed my oration, I made such preparation for the debate as three days of continuous labor at high pressure could give. The dreaded evening came. The house was packed. Party feeling ran high. The sympathy of the audience, composed mainly of townspeople, was with our side of course—but apprehension was correspondingly deep, for the other side chose their champions from a more numerous and older body of students, belonging to higher classes, with more prestige in the school and better promise of winning. I was in a state of the highest nervous tension, and in an agony of apprehension as the critical moment drew near. At last I was called forth to deliver my oration. The instant I faced the sea of upturned, sympathetic faces there came upon me, in an overwhelming tide, such an access of physical and mental vigor as exalted me quite out of myself. I remember telling Mother afterwards for lack of a better simile, that I felt as if I could whip any man in the audience. I won the four points, my opponent getting only an honorable mention. The debate went the same way. There was no sharing of points. Our opponents got nothing, and we swept the Erodelphians off the field. We won seven of the possible nine points, and for the moment I was the pet son of the townsfolk. This was my first taste of conscious success. I think, indeed, it was perhaps the first awakening of ambition. Certainly, the incident taught me that I really could do some things that require close application, sustained mental effort, and some exercise of the critical faculty, if I were hard put to it.

By September first, 1873, when I was twenty, I was prepared, as I have said, to enter the freshman class of the classical course in an Eastern college. Indeed, I was prepared for an advanced standing of almost a year. By this time our finances had ceased to cause us worry, and it was even thought that I could afford to make a start towards an Eastern college course. Father was an ardent admirer of President Martin B. Anderson, of the University of Rochester, and he decided to send me to that institution, then a small college under Baptist auspices. Accordingly, about the middle of September 1873, I found myself a very green and inexperienced stranger in the great and wonderful city of Rochester. I passed all my entrance examinations successfully, going, according to the excellent custom there, from professor to professor for a private examination, usually partly oral and partly written. I got on without much embarrassment and was duly given a certificate of admission with no conditions. I was particularly gratified that I did not fail in Greek. I had not studied Greek in Highland University, and it was not until June first of that year that I got my Greek books and began the study. I had no tutor, but a room was set apart at home for my exclusive use; I was called on for no service about the house, and took no exercise or recreation, day or evening. I did not even attend the fourth of July celebration at Highland. I concentrated absolutely and worked nearly sixteen hours per day. My job was to do two years’ work in Greek without a teacher, in ninety days of continuous application. I gave the application and when, on September fifteenth, I was through with my Greek examination, the professor’s face beamed with gratification and he wrote on my examination card: “Greek, Kendrick, Good.” with the “good” underscored. You can imagine the elation with which I left the room with that precious card in my hand. It was worth the ninety days of toil and torture that I had endured. For, though not lacking in industry and perseverance, I acquired language slowly and laboriously.

I had come to Rochester to stay while money held out. But no sooner had I got my entrance papers than I changed my mind and returned to Kansas, after visits to the relatives in Broome County. For I saw that with my very considerable advance credits I could save much time and money by returning home for two years, studying as much as necessary at home in Highland, giving a generous amount of spare time to earning money, and then two years later rejoining in its junior year the class of 1877 which I had just entered. An attack of homesickness, no doubt, influenced my decision. But I submitted my plan to President Anderson, and he approved. The plan worked out successfully. Some of the work and the incidents of those two additional years at Highland I have perhaps anticipated in the foregoing pages, and we may immediately return to Rochester, to find me a junior, this time, however, with conditions in Greek, as I had found no time for renewing my study of that subject.

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College Life in the Seventies