A Space Alien Triumphs.

Today, I want to talk about triumph and the people who help us become who we are.

One of the major people in my life who took a chance on me and believed in me passed away a couple years ago. I never got to tell him that I got in to UCLA, when most of his colleagues told me I never would. I never got to tell him that I graduated from UCLA with all three of the honors that the College of Letters & Science offers. And I’ll never get to tell him that I was accepted to graduate school this year.

Mr. Spica taught AP Art History at my high school. In my senior year, I became extremely interested in this field and wanted to take the AP Art History course being offered. It was the second semester by the time enrollment opened up. The first semester covered art since the beginning of time (okay, not really) through the 15th century. Like any good teacher, Mr. Spica knew that usually the first semester of any course provides you with the foundational information you’ll need for the second semester. And thus, he was adamant that I not be allowed to enroll. I got a letter of recommendation from one of my teachers (who majored in art history in college). He still wouldn’t let me in, worried that my lack of knowledge could bring the rest of the class down and force the class to move at a slower pace. I told him that I would sit in his class until he enrolled me. This agreement worked.

My first day sitting in, he gave us a test. We were to write essays in response to slides on the screen within thirty minutes. I’d never written an art historical essay before, and I’d never seen most of the slides. I also had no idea what on earth an “art history” essay was — as if it could be any different than other essays! I remember one slide in particular, the gardens at Versailles. I had no idea why these gardens were designed as such, but  I could tell by the massive amount of land they take up and their rather ornate landscaping that whoever designed them did so as a visual and physical reminder of their power and wealth. Mr. Spica graded these essays on a scale of 0 to 5. I got a 1. My next “test” was the homework, what he called style sheets. Style sheets were charts that had an artist’s name, years active, art historical period, examples of their art, and descriptions of their style. These were graded on a scale of 1 to 10. I got a 10 on my first style sheet, and he decided to let me enroll in the class.

My fellow students told me that, with his “monotone voice” (not my words), I would fall asleep in Mr. Spica’s class. Some told me that it was excessively difficult and a waste of time. They were all wrong. Mr. Spica loved art history, and loved teaching it. I think his favorite was modern performance art. He went to the Hammer and LACMA frequently. For those of us who were taking the AP Art History exam, he gave us a special review night and bought us pizza. One of the most endearing things about Mr. Spica was his grading. He always graded all of our papers with a green gel pen. He was never without it.

The last day of class crept up on us. Mr. Spica did the same thing every year: the class played “art history Jeopardy.” The grand prize was a Toulouse-Lautrec kaleidoscope. The players quickly came down to me (the girl who missed half the course) and four girls who had been in the course for its full length. It was intimidating. I kept forgetting to say “What is ____” and the girls would collectively groan because I got the right answer but didn’t say it right and Mr. Spica graciously allowed my faults in proper game show procedure.

Somehow, I won art history Jeopardy. I beat out the entire class after being there for just one semester. No matter how silly this may sound, the moment I won that game in Mr. Spica’s twelfth grade AP art history class was an incredible triumph for me. I loved art history in a way that my other classmates didn’t. I was good at it. This small triumph confirmed it. No one, especially not Mr. Spica, thought I would win art history Jeopardy, and why should they? I think Mr. Spica’s mind was changed as he ceremoniously handed me the grand prize and announced that I must be a “space alien.”

Mr. Spica wrote in my yearbook in his favorite green pen. I was so proud to be his favorite space alien.

Mr. Spica coached girl’s tennis at my high school and would often go to UCLA’s tennis matches. I worked at Coffee Bean by UCLA, and it was here, a year or so after graduation, that I told him I received a 4 (out of 5) on the AP Art History exam and that I was majoring in art history in college. He wasn’t surprised.

That was the last time I saw him.

I said at the beginning, this post is about triumph and the people who believe in us. Mr. Spica was cautious to take a chance on letting me into his class, but eventually, he did, and because he believed in my potential, I grew exponentially in a field that, some years later, I can’t imagine not being in for the rest of my life. He introduced me to the basics of art history and critiqued my writing with unabashed severity, sometimes writing “No!!” with his green pen or enclosing portions of my essays with a large, underlined, green zero. I wish I could thank him for his honest critiques. And I wish even more that I could tell him of my latest “Jeopardy” moment of triumph: getting into graduate school.

I’ve had many supportive teachers (professors) since graduating high school. I will rave forever about how incredibly generous and wonderful the professors in UCLA’s art history department are. It’s no secret that UCLA has been one of the best experiences of my life, and that I credit them with teaching me how to be a scholar. It’s also no secret that I want to make art history my career. And, thanks to the wonderful training I received at UCLA and above all, the support from my family, friends, and professors, I’ll be able to.

Beginning Fall 2012, I will be studying at my dream program, which has what I believe is one of the strongest Early Modern art history programs in the country: the University of Delaware. I am so excited to begin my studies there, specializing in (of course) Italian Baroque art!


Knowledge is the light of the mind