Admission — Chapter 2


The only thing that still remained unresolved was my application for veterinary medicine. In order to apply to veterinary medicine there were several things that you had to complete. First, you had to fill out the paperwork and sign a release saying that they could access your marks. Then, you had to write an essay explaining why you wanted to be a veterinarian and finally you were interviewed by a panel of professors that would evaluate your suitability as an applicant.

The essay that I had to write was a disaster. I wrote it while I was still working on the dairy farm. I was not given time off or allowed to leave the farm, before I quit the job, so I had to make due with what they had on hand. What they had on hand was an old typewriter that was in need of repair.

When you insert paper into a typewriter, the paper goes down the back of a barrel that is slightly longer than the paper is wide and it is guided to go around this barrel and come up at the front of the machine. The paper is held snug against the barrel as you type. The typing mechanism moves to the right the distance of one letter each time you hit a key stroke. At the end of each line a bell rings to let you know that you have five spaces left before the end. When you reach the end, you use a return paddle to move the paper up one line and move the typing mechanism back to the left so that you can continue.

This particular typewriter had something loose inside. As I typed the page would shift down giving it a droopy appearance. The essay had to be typed, that was stipulated in the application, and I had no other typewriter that I could use so I would type a bit and then try to pull the paper up to where it was supposed to be. It is painful now to think about this.

I likely could have used a typewriter at a local library or hired someone to do the typing for me, but I did not know this at the time. Even though the farmer’s wife was a teacher, she did not offer any insights into how to improve the appearance of the essay. It brings into focus how much of a disadvantage students are at if their parents did not get any higher education. So, my essay was probably a frightful mess.

The interview went OK, but I have learned that unless you know what they are looking for there is no way to tell if you have given them what they want. They asked me some specific questions about the Pre Vet Club. I had been elected to its board, but I had never done any work. I did not know what I was supposed to do and the other people on the board never let me know.

In general, my marks were all good except for two courses. During grade 12, I had made the mistake of taking grade 13 biology. The high school I was attending went on strike the year that I was in grade 12 and we missed several weeks of classes. Many of the people that I was in grade 12 with never did graduate, or did not graduate that year, because the teachers were on strike so long that the students got full time jobs and then it didn’t make sense to go back to school.

The drawback for me was that the instructors for first year Zoology assumed that you had learned the material in grade 13 biology. I had not. I had been given the credit, so it would appear as though I knew the stuff, but I hadn’t even seen most of it before. The course amounted to a huge amount of anatomy of various creatures and it required a lot of memorization. I am explaining this in a great amount of detail because Zoology was my lowest mark, by far.

The other course that I got a poor mark in was an accident. It turns out that this particular professor was the father of a woman that would later become one of my best friends, but I did not know her at the time. There was a mistake in recording my mark. When I calculated how poorly I would have had to have done on the final exam to get my final mark, I would have had to have received less than zero. I knew it was an error. I went in to see the professor and he acknowledged that it must have just been an error and assured me that he would change the mark. He never did.

So, I waitressed for the remainder of the summer and eagerly anticipated a reply to my veterinary application. I knew that I was going back to university regardless of whether or not I got accepted. I did not get accepted.

The letter that came with my rejection said that I could go in to the office of the veterinary college and find out why I did not get in. So, I decided that I would do this. In those days, computer paper was about 20 inches wide and had edges that were separated from the main paper by perforations. These edges had holes in them. The holes fit over the mechanism that moved the paper through the printer. Computer paper was not similar to regular paper in shape or texture. When I went in to see why I had not been accepted, the man explaining it to me pulled out this long piece of computer paper that was probably three or four feet long.

Each line of the paper had a name followed by the overall average that the person had on the test scores. This was followed by the mark given for the essay, the average mark from their course work and the mark that they received for their interview. The most important mark was the overall average and the list had been organized with the highest average at the top and decreasing averages below in order.

Some very talented individual had taken the time to highlight a large block of names in pink. So, when he held the paper up, there were a bunch of names at the top, followed by a huge area of pink and then the vast majority of the names were below the pink area. He explained to me that the people in the pink area all had the same overall average. About one third of the way down the pink area was a bold blue line that had been drawn in to mark the bottom of the list of accepted applicants. I was in the pink, just below the line.

Being that close is a strange feeling. I was just as good as a group of students that were accepted that year (based on the way that they were evaluated). Unfortunately for me, my last name was not ‘Abbot’ or ‘Burns’. Several things could have put me above that pink patch: taking grade 13 biology in grade 13; having the professor actually correct my grade; and having a decent typewriter to do my essay on. Any one of these things could have given me a fraction of a point advantage and I would have been accepted. I did not know if I would ever be accepted. It felt like there were a few fail-safes to make sure that I did not get in that year.

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Read the entire book, now available

Keep Reading: The Great Train Accident

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