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June 7, 2016

Why I Went to Graceland

Why I Went to Graceland

WILDCAT WEDNESDAY – One of my early lessons regarding some of the disdain for athletes amongst the academic elite took place in 1993 during the opening study section of American History. I’d attended the first session in an auditorium full of students who were listening to Professor Henry Binford. It was my third year at Northwestern and we were having a great basketball season. I was pumped to go to classes and learn from my teachers, up until the point I realized that my American History graduate student Teaching Assistant (TA) saw me as different from the rest of our section.

On the first day of our section, we sat in a big circle. His opening ice breaker that everyone had to answer was: your name, your hometown and “Why would anyone ever go to Graceland?” I happened to be the very last student in the circle. I listened to everyone answer this random question. Very few said they would go to Graceland. The TA was pleased with their emphatic responses about why would anyone want to tour the home of Elvis Presley in Memphis, Tennessee. Then it was my turn.

“My name is Maureen Holohan. I’m from Wynantskill, NY. I’ve been to Graceland.”

The class gasped. The young teacher, who had dark curly hair and glasses, winced. He waited for me to explain.

“We were playing AAU basketball and our national tournament was nearby. Our coach, Doc Gallivan, and his assistants, two other dads, were Elvis fans. They wanted to go, so after we had our fun at the water park, I felt it would be fun to go support them. Plus my Uncle Tony was a big fan, and I thought I’d bring him back a souvenir.”

“What was it like?” someone asked.

“It’s rock-and-roll so it’s fun. The odd part for me that I remember the most is that Elvis hid a lot of his money in the walls of his private plane, and in the walls of his house.”

That was all I could remember aside from the overall feeling that it was all a little weird to be walking through the house of a dead famous guy. (I felt the same way when I went to Abe Lincoln’s house in Illinois. My dad visited separately and he raved about how much he loved it.) What I didn’t say was, “Sorry to say that the reason why I went to Graceland was because it wasn’t like I could pick the Eiffel Tower or Normandy that summer or ever growing up. We played basketball all summer. That was our vacation. My family went camping for years, which was awful, but then we stopped after we all started playing more sports. All our money went toward camps and AAU trips, so along the way we found our vacations or just made the most of moldy hotels and cheap places to eat in, places no one went to for vacation.”

As it turned out, the TA was not a big fan of Elvis or me. I think I received a B or B- on my first few tests and one paper or some combination. However, I really enjoyed Professor Binford and his lectures. Yet when it came down to the end of our class right before finals, I had to face the TA and tell him the news. We had won against Georgia Tech in the first round.

On Monday, I went up to my TA and said, “I can’t take the final on Thursday because we’re going to be in Tennessee playing in the second round of the tournament.”

I was going to add that there were no plans to go to Graceland. It was strictly basketball business this time.

“What tournament?” he asked.

“The NCAA.”

“You can’t.”


“You can’t go or if you do, you will fail the final and the class.”

“I’m going to the tournament.”

“Okay, but you will fail the final.”

“What? Do you know how hard it is to make the NCAAs?”

He gave me a blank stare. I was not happy with him. I walked away and went straight up to the boss, Professor Binford. Right before I met with Binford, I calmed down as I waited behind a few students. I thought about the pressure for me to handle this correctly. I seriously didn’t know how or when I’d re-take American History if I failed due to the game. I was calm. I told Binford that I wasn’t trying to get out of anything. I had the tournament and the TA had just told me I could not play in my game or I would fail.

“How would you feel if we merged your two grades and made you exempt?” Binford said.

I paused in shock then said, “That works.”

I asked Professor Binford if he wanted to relay the message to the TA or for me to do it. He knew I wanted no part of that conversation.

“I’ll take care of it,” Binford said. “Enjoy the tournament.”

Sorry you encountered academic/class snobbery as a student-athlete. Grad students in the humanities (and I was one once) can be prone to this but it does them no credit either as scholars or as people. I enjoy reading all of your life lessons on and off the court and hope my daughter, going into 8th grade, will as well. Thank you.

  1. TY for commenting. It’s one of those things where for every person who didn’t respect student-athletes or held something against them, there were dozens who loved us – probably too much! It’s just good to recognize it, get over it and move on. Thank you for reading.