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Wholesale Observations: Athens, Georgia part 2
Rafe Semmes
Rafe Semmes

Rafe Semmes

Local columnist

When I went off to college, my dad told me to be careful – “UVA is known for being a party school,” he said; “Don’t get caught up in that.” He said the same thing the next year, when I transferred to UGA. But I told him not to worry “I know what I am there for.”

And I did. I never got caught up in that party scene, although I went to a few, here and there. I had too much work to do!

This was before Gov.

Zell Miller got the Hope Scholarship program underway, wherein you had to maintain a B average to get the next quarter’s funding. I was partly on a “Parental Scholarship,” and partly self-funded.

So I knew if my grades slipped below acceptable levels, I would have to take that up directly with the fund provider!

Back then, schools sent quarterly grade reports directly to the parents; although students got copies too. So there was no hiding quarterly results! But I never let my folks down; the only two quarters at UGA I ever got a C were undergraduate ones in which I had taken on extra courses, and unexpectedly had two very intense ones, with way too much homework, and too little time to do it all in. On top of a very long evening rehearsal schedule, one of those quarters. (It was a class assignment, so I had no choice in participating.)

I still graduated with honors; and got both departmental and graduate school fellowships, my two years of grad school, which paid for the majority of those two years.

Which turned out to be crucial to my funding, as my dad died unexpectedly, half-way through my senior year; so available family funding was reduced, at that point. I was certainly glad all my prior hard work paid off then!

I have always been a life-long learner, so college was more like a smorgasboard of treats for me, rather than a string of chores, even though I had to work hard to master all those new subjects. I got introduced to a wide variety of topics that I never would have, otherwise, and had some flexibility in choosing courses. And I picked up several extras, along the way, because it didn’t cost me anything extra, just my time and commitment. Well worth the effort!

Going to a large school like UGA is not for everyone, of course. My wife went to a small women’s college in Macon, later on; and that suited her well. But I loved the larger environment and greater opportunities the university life offered. Also the broader pool of people to meet, get to know, and become friends with.

Two of my closest friends during my college years were roommates.

My first year, at UVA, a fellow I knew from high school roomed with me, for most of the first semester. The two guys in the room next to us were a Pole from New Jersey and an Italian from New York.

They basically swapped ethnic jokes for a couple of months, then got sick of each other. So my roommate moved in with the Pole, and I got the Italian from New York. That worked out better for all of us. We remain friends to this day.

The next year, at UGA, I had two roommates, one of whom left after the first two quarters, both of whom were very quiet, and mostly went home on the weekends, so I had the room to myself then, which suited me fine. The next year, I moved across the hall, with a view facing the street, instead of the parking lot; a much better view! And the fellow assigned to room with me that year was a fellow from Brunswick, whose dad had been transferred to London, Ontario, for four years, so he spent his high school years there, before coming back to Georgia.

Obviously, his nickname on the hall quickly became “Canuck,” but he didn’t mind. We found we had similar tastes in music, humor, and outlooks on life, and became fast friends. I was very glad he was my roommate that year.

Another fellow in that dorm that I became very close friends with was from the small town of Cedartown, northwest of Atlanta. We remain close friends to this day. He was short in stature, though with a muscular build and a brilliant mind, and – like me, a rollicking good sense of humor. He is one of the smartest people I have had the good fortune to meet.

Many other folks I met during those years became good friends. More in my next column.

Rafe Semmes is a proud graduate of (“the original”) Savannah High School and the University of Georgia. He and his wife live in eastern Liberty County, and are long-time Rotarians. He writes on a variety of topics, and may be reached at

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