Fridays with Rudy: Vagabond Dreams Come True, Ch. 13

In Chapter 13 of his 1930 memoir, Vagabond Dreams Come True, Rudy Vallée addresses a question that he claimed occasionally came up: Was his experience in college responsible for his success? As a Yale man, Rudy had strongly felt opinions on the topic, and he’s not shy about sharing them.

Chapter XIII

Did College Help Me?

I HAVE occasionally been asked whether or not I thought that my college training was responsible for my success.
Like most questions I believe that is a difficult one to answer with a single negative or affirmative since it requires much discussion and explanation.
There has always been animosity on the part of many people who have attended a university toward those who have. This is probably subconsciously prompted by envy and regret as there are very few who will not admit that if they had the opportunity they would go to college.
It is true that in the past the requirements for entering college, for remaining within its walls, and for securing a degree were not as exacting as they are today. There were not so many applications for admission as the average college receives today, and there was a looseness about the times that was felt n the classrooms and on the campus.
But today the average college can accommodate only one third of the men who apply for admission each fall. Therefore the board of admission and the faculty feel that in justice to the thousands who are turned down, those admitted should give the best in them in an effort to utilize all of the wonderful advantages that the college affords them. In other words, among those refused admission are many who perhaps would give anything to have been admitted and who would work very hard, and for the more fortunate ones who are safely in to rest on their oars and become, as it were, slackers, is an injustice to these others.
I do not know a great deal about the requirements of other colleges but I do know that to enter, stay within and graduate from Yale requires work, hard work and plenty of it. Neither money, family prestige nor athletic ability will keep a man in Yale University; and I have seen some of the biggest athletes severely penalized for misdemeanors that seemed comparatively slight. In fact, the faculty at New Haven has just as high a regard for the fifty percent of the men who are working their way through as they have for the remainder.
It is an absolute impossibility for a young man to remain for the four years of a college course within this university (and I firmly believe such is the case in nearly all of our other American universities) without being tremendously affected by his classroom and social contacts. It is unreasonable to suppose that one could associate with the eager, fresh and talented minds of students and the cultured, highly specialized minds of the faculty without receiving some sort of impression. It is impossible to cheat in the classroom and it is impossible to pass most of the courses without reading and study.
Therefore it is an unavoidable fact that those who march in cap and gown at Commencement have, perhaps in spite of themselves, received a great deal from their college life.

There are also the social contacts that come from rubbing shoulders with all the types that are found in classrooms. The mind is like a camera plate, unconsciously receptive of accents, manners, customs in dress, expressions of thought. And of course especially when an individual seeks to pattern himself after the most popular men on the campus and the natural leaders, within this period of four years he can transform himself in manners, speech, thought and action. There must be contact in the classrooms and at meal times; therefore, no matter how much a student may intend to live the life of a hermit he must be affected by his classmates.
The text-books, written as they are by great minds and expounded to the students by specialists in the various subjects, help to mould the thoughts of the students who must read them. The college courses of today are so regulated that one must take a well-balanced group of subjects. Even though the student may have a leaning toward the sciences, the faculty has learned that a sprinkling of the arts in a scientific course gives a more rounded education, and very often those who thought they wanted scientific subjects have found out, through being compelled to take an artistic course, that they prefer the arts.
I took a course that gave me a little of everything.
There is little question in my mind that nearly everything I took had aided me, not only in my musical work, but in my general life. My biology has helped me in my mode of living through the knowledge and understanding of my physical self which it gave me. My courses in English have helped me to express myself more fluently, sensibly and entertainingly. My economics and courses in history have made it possible for me to understand and appreciate everyday events that I read or hear about. The several courses I took in the Yale Music School have aided me in an appreciation of dramatic music and the development of music, which have resulted in making my life’s work all the more interesting. I had majored in Spanish with the intention of using it in South America as a stage band director or a night club orchestra leader; it has helped me in the vocal rendition of several tangos that have made our programs all the more unusual.
But it is the study of psychology that has really aided me in my music and contributed to my success in the various lines in which I now find myself; in the handling and treatment of those under me and those above me, my study of the various branches of psychology has been of great use to me. Just one little psychological talk on speech making, by one of the department heads who had made it his pet subject, has aided me in my delivery, not only on the stage but at various formal and informal functions at which I have been asked or expected to say something. Moreover, psychology has been extremely valuable to me in shaping my judgment of what to play, when to play it and how to play it. It has helped me in my selection of tunes that looked like successful songs, and in my judgment of the crowds we play to.
Although for my own part the native talents that came to me through inheritance are greatly responsible for my achievements, I feel that my college training has helped me in many ways that I know of and many more that I am not directly aware of. Certainly a college training has never hurt an individual.
The boy who does nothing but carouse and dissipate at college would probably be even worse out of college as, after all, that is a question of character and I really believe that the requirements of college in classrooms and in sports make for the betterment of the individual and equip a man with a certain something that marks him apart from the rest of the community in which he continues to work after graduation.

Read Chapter 14

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