California State University, Fresno
First Generation Stories

 

 

Square Holes in the Ground

Karla Hutchens
Procurement and Support Services

Being from a typical Japanese-American family, there was never any doubt in anyone’s mind that I would go to college someday. The Japanese tend to believe each generation should accomplish more than the last, and my parents were certainly no different. My grandparents, who were first-generation immigrants, had been farmers. My father was a car mechanic and my mom was a homemaker. Although neither had attended college, both of my parents were voracious readers and instilled in me their love of books and classical music.

It was a solitary pursuit during those years, with no family guidance or encouragement, no one to remind me that I had a paper due or that I needed to study for an exam.

It was naturally assumed that I would enter college directly out of high school and pursue a career in the medical field or in one of the natural sciences. As early as seventh grade, I began on my own to eagerly plan which classes I would need to take to prepare for college. I made a chart of the foreign language classes, math classes, and science classes I would need and in which grades I would take them. I always carefully set aside time for my violin studies, although I had no intention of majoring in music.

My career choice, as well as the course of my life, changed suddenly when I was a senior in high school. My English teacher, Mrs. Ostenberg, showed our class a film about the work of anthropologists and archaeologists Louis and Mary Leakey and their work at Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania in eastern Africa. It was as though a light switched on in my brain and I was hooked. From that moment, archaeology and the study of the past and old things in general became my passion. The idea of majoring in one of the natural sciences was eliminated from my mental database. My mind was made up. I would attend Fresno State, major in anthropology, and study with William Beatty, one of the best known anthropology professors in California. 

To say that my parents were not pleased would be one of the greatest understatements in the annals of history. They couldn’t understand how I could choose digging square holes in the ground over a more elevated career as a “true” scientist. I tried hard to explain to them the science behind studying human existence, and how important it is to piece together man’s past and to learn as much as we can about the history of humankind. I might as well have been speaking to a brick wall. My parents never really accepted my choice, but I forged ahead on my own, full scholarship in hand.

It was a solitary pursuit during those years, with no family guidance or encouragement, no one to remind me that I had a paper due or that I needed to study for an exam. My first semester was a near disaster in large part due to experiencing total freedom for the first time in my life and having no one to guide me through it.  Having a choice to attend class or not attend class—well guess what I chose? However, I soon I discovered those who became my mentors, my anthropology faculty. Roger LaJeunesse, Dirk van der Elst, Sydney Story, and, of course, Bill Beatty, all gave me the greatest gift, that of believing in myself. They told me repeatedly that I would succeed, over and over until I believed it myself.   And yes, I did learn to dig square holes in the ground—scientifically.

On the day I graduated, my family attended the ceremony. When the president of Fresno State asked all family members of the class of 1978 to stand, my parents stood, their faces beaming down at me from where they were seated. In that instant, I knew how proud they were of me. It was a perfect moment. 

I miss my parents. I wish they could have known their only grandchild, my son, who is now a freshman at Fresno State. We’ve come full circle. I provide my son with encouragement and reminders to study and do well and I know it won’t be long before he finds his own university mentors.

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