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Saturday, February 6, 2010

One of the Most Disappointing and Ridiculous Evenings of My Life

I entered the Madison Area Technical College’s contest to “Win a Career” a few months ago with zero expectations. The essay requirement was easy to fulfill and was completed within an hour. I sent it off and wondered what life would be like with two years of free tuition. I discovered that life would be good. One day, a few weeks later, I received a congratulatory e-mail proclaiming that I was selected as a semi-finalist and was to make a two minute video showing my story and why I deserved to win. I was pretty psyched to say the least, as I never expected to make it that far. So I made a video, trying to highlight my desperation and plea for help. Then, an invite came in the mail explaining that I had to present at the Gala to win. So I went.

Here’s where things get a little ridiculous.

I walked in the doors of the school, found the check-in table and was handed a program with all the names of the semi-finalists…all 46 of us. My heart immediately dropped and everything went downhill from there. I was handed a complimentary shitty windbreaker and a terrible looking tote filled with pencils and G.I. Joe sized notepads. Keeping a polite smile on my face, I continued to where the “dessert banquet” was being held and was promptly stopped by a woman and her video camera.

“Where have you been?” she asked.

“Lost,” I replied, despite the fact I was at a bar.

“Well, we need you to do an interview!”

So I stepped by a lady and her microphone. She asked questions that were well rehearsed and hard to hear. I smiled a lot and attempted to keep on the sympathy train, but she kept pulling the microphone away while I was in the middle of sentences. As soon as I received my token “good luck” from the microphone lady, who cannot rightfully be called a reporter, I was on to the desserts. There was a terrible jazz band blasting their way through the charts full of old, old men. An even older white man was at the piano and clearly thought he was the two-year technical school’s version of Count Basie. I tried to ignore their mediocrity and moved to the sweets. Being filled with mostly brownies, I took three from the table. They were dry and were yet another bad omen. Surrounding the eating areas were televisions with the videos of all of the semi-finalists (again, all 46 of us.) The screens were filled with single mothers, minorities, and rich white kids. Lucky for me, the jazz band was so loud I could not hear the audio from any of said videos, for that would have only added to the crappy brownie taste in my mouth. I soon found out that there were a total of 130 applicants and that I was one of 46 lucky semi-finalists. 46, it seems, was the only number of names that could fit on the program page. We were then guided to the auditorium for the awards presentation.

The auditorium was nice enough, having five chairs on the stage (complete with water under each of them, game show style,) a large screen hanging from the ceiling, and a podium with one of whitest men I’ve ever seen behind it. The MC, who thankfully never called himself that, was the Dean of the college and was “under the weather.” He compared his voice cracking to one of the Brady Bunch children. This did not bode well. Deano McVoicecrack explained that five videos would be shown and that those five individuals should come on the stage but only one would be the big winner. The others would win a thousand dollars towards tuition each. Also, he made sure to note, “there are no losers.” The first three finalists were all still in high school and wanted to be: a cook, a vet tech, and an engineer (who thought that alternative fuels were not being explored…at all. He made sure to mention that alternative fuels would help the environment. This boy clearly did some serious research.)

Next up was a twenty-five year old guy with a spray on tan. Sporting pure white sneakers, jeans, and a sports jacket with a skater shirt underneath, he proudly took the stage. His video took the cake. Part of his selling point was that he was “kind of unhappy” in his current job. Yes, him and 90% of the world. He also wanted to be an engineer of sorts, but had a very distinct and clear vision of what he wanted to do. This man-child wanted to “reinvent the car” so that every single part of the vehicle could be put together and/or repaired with one tool, which he dubbed the “uni-tool.” Another aspect he wanted to change was the top speed of the car, to “about 80 or 90 miles per hour. I think that will make things easier for cops, too.” My jaw dropped. Also, he showed himself drawing a car in a notebook that looked like the cars I drew when I was in fourth grade; boxy, square, and two dimensional. He also presented a wood model he had created for his car to us lucky viewers. In conjunction with words like “MATC will help me zoom to my goals,” he pushed his wooden model car, only to have it immediately slide to a stop because the wheels did not spin. Needless to say, I was not the last finalist. It was a family man that couldn’t have been older than 30 who wanted to start his culinary career. He was not a bad guy, and I hope he won.

I say, “I hope” because I did not bother to stay. After all the finalists (who were not me) were called up, the Dean stated that “there are no losers” again. With that, an elderly man got up to the podium and tried telling us that there are other scholarships and that “there are no losers her tonight.” They were very clear on that point. Apparently losing did not, in fact, make me a loser. Interesting. The old man finished up, explaining that he was only wasting time, and another speaker came on to explain where the donations were coming from. I could not take any more and left during some applause.

I learned a few things that night. One, I am not a loser despite losing. Two, MATC clearly did not want to give money to a person who really needed it. They were more interested in white students (yes, they were all white. Only one pure Aryan though, so I guess that’s something) who could not make car wheels spin and who did not actually need the free tuition. Here I was thinking I needed to get more sympathy than people who had been on welfare, were single parents, or had harder backgrounds than me. Turns out I needed to be a smiling kid who made the audience laugh, not think. Thinking is overrated. The third thing I learned is that free brownies are almost never good. I can’t wait for that uni-tool.


  1. Nate- This breaks my heart... it truely does. PLEASE PLEASE don't let beaurocratic nonsense keep you from pursuing your passion and building the life that you told me you wanted. I KNOW that you can and will do anything that you want and as cliche as it sounds that guy NEEDED that scholarship because he can't actualize his potential like I know you can. I know the money would have been nice but I have every confidence that you will still do what you set out to do!
    -Sara Barreau

  2. Don't forget you learned the greatness of Ale Asylum. I maintain the utmost confidence in you as a writer and person my friend.