Kansas Jayhawk
I absolutely love this time of year. For me, it’s all about the NCAA Basketball Tournament. This isn’t just because I enjoy watching basketball, of course, although there is something very primal and exciting in watching these contests of skill and teamwork. There’s intellectual stimulation in filling out my bracket — judging a team’s defensive strategy versus another team’s offensive power and their records and history and experience. There’s emotional stimulation in watching a team’s disappointment when they bow out earlier than expected (like Notre Dame), or their euphoria in winning when they weren’t expected to (like VCU’s win over Duke in the first round) . I root for a very specific team, Kansas, because that’s where I’m from. I grew up in the shadow of the University of Kansas and didn’t wholly sever myself from it even when I left for college at 18. I know they say you can never come home again, but in the month of March every year, no matter where I am physically located, I am home again.

I was born at Lawrence Memorial Hospital in Lawrence, Kansas. My father was a professor at KU for my entire life, until he retired last year. He taught civil engineering and was a major force in Chinese-American campus life. We went to the university for basketball games, for China Day events, for piano recitals. When I was in high school a KU student tutored me in calculus. KU was my “safety school” and I had actually gotten a dorm assignment before I decided to attend Wellesley College instead. Even there, when all my Wellesley friends went overseas or did internships over holidays, I always — always — went back to Lawrence. I took summer classes at the university, or hung out with my high school friends who all attended KU, or worked at an apartment complex not far from campus. I listened to the KU radio station, visited its museums, walked down Jayhawk Boulevard. I loved everything about KU. And since I didn’t actually have to graduate from the school, my vision of KU is probably more idealized than the students who actually attended. I don’t have any memories of bad bureaucracy or inept teachers to cloud my rose-colored vision. And once, I took a speech class over the summer with a KU b-ball star.

One of my fondest memories of high school — and perhaps this will tell you more about my high school experience than I care to reveal — was when Kansas won the NCAA tournament in 1988. I was studying for a Chemistry test that night. The game was against Oklahoma, and Kansas was a “Cinderella” team. They were not expected to win; they’d had 11 losses that year. Yet they kept up with the speedy Sooners and at halftime, the game was the highest-scoring one in basketball history — the score was 50-50. Kansas went on to win 83-79. I don’t remember many of the exact details (I was trying to focus on certain formulas for the test) but I do remember the excitement of my hometown after it happened. I was expecting to finish up my studying and go to bed. Instead, my father cried, “Let’s go!” and we all got into the car. My sister and I at least had no idea where we were headed. We drove to campus, with every single car in the streets honking their horns as they passed us. People stuck their heads out the windows and cheered and flashed their headlights at everyone else. It was lucky my dad worked on campus, so he could park at his office, because the place was jam-packed. We joined a streaming mass of humanity making its way down Jayhawk Boulevard, where frat boys were pouring beer on one another and the entire town seemed caught up in celebration. Thousands of students yelled victory from the trees that lined the street and Jayhawk chants were ubiquitous. The party went on for hours. I wonder if anyone got much sleep that night, with all the cars honking and “townies” and students alike making noise that could drown out an ocean (not that we had any such body of water nearby).

Very few people showed up in school the next day. Anyone who attended Chemistry class got an A on the test. We had a parade, and Disneyworld sent Cinderella to head it. The beauty of the NCAA tournament is that anything is possible, and that night we really felt this was true.

I am grateful to my hometown for a lot of things. I feel I am more grounded than many of my West Coast and East Coast counterparts because I grew up amidst Midwestern mores and hospitality. Because I lived in a college town, there were always things to do at night and learn by day. My town was more diverse than many of the places around it, and I was proud that Lawrence was one of the few towns in the area that had made a stand against slavery (and was burned to the ground for it). I always felt like I had a home to go to, and to this day Lawrence, Kansas feels like that to me. So when I watch Kansas play in the tournament, I’m not actually rooting for my school. I’m celebrating so much more, and feeling lucky that I have had such experiences in my life.
Helen, 34, in Glenview, Illinois, USA