Suzanne Schmidt, an SMU Story


When we asked Suzanne Schmidt if we could share her story of making a planned gift to SMU, we received this wonderful response.

A curious friend recently asked me, "How on earth did a girl with no money from a one horse town in West Texas ever wind up at high brow SMU?" Good question.

In a way that happens often these days, I was swamped with nostalgia. My mind's eye pictured the scared-to-death young woman/little girl with the Aqua Net secured, back-combed hair who prepared to leave the only home she had ever known. I could see her carefully packing the bright red Samsonite bag that had been a graduation gift from one of the many generous folks in Lamesa, Texas. The sparkling new clothes that were carefully folded had been purchased as a gift by her treasured friend Adren Nix. Adren was one of the adults whose ongoing support had sustained our heroine during the long, lonely years since her father's untimely death. I could feel the heat that washed over her during the long car trip across the Llano Estacado, through the Cross Timbers, to her final destination in the heart of the Blackland Prairie. Ahh... Dallas. That magical place that had called to her with its siren song of excitement and opportunity.

But, the memories didn't answer the central question. Why SMU? And why had this honor student not even applied to any other university? A choice that would be considered terminally stupid these days, when competition for slots at prestigious institutions is fierce. When helicopter parents, not students, do the tasks required to secure admission.

It would sound wonderfully intellectual to talk of programs, professors, or the academic prestige of the university. It would, however, be dishonest. Something that C.L.Schmidt (Schmidty) would roll over in his grave if he observed. So, let's talk truth.

The allure that called to the cash-strapped young woman was history. Personal family history in the persons of an adored aunt and uncle who had lived in Dallas and provided abundant memories. The history written by an adored older brother who had been a BMOC at SMU. (For the younger reader, that stands for Big Man on Campus.) It was the memorable history of SMU's Doak Walker, who blazed a trail of adoration in the hearts of so many young people. It was the history of trips to the State Fair of Texas as a part of 4-H projects. It was the smells of the Fair. Manure and corn dogs. It was the memory of Pegasus towering over the Dallas skyline, inspiring thoughts of unlimited horizons.

Powerful pulls, aren't they? But what about the money? I have already told you that this potential scholar was without financial resources. Which is not completely true, as she WAS the beneficiary of those amazingly protective programs called Social Security and Veterans Benefits. Those paltry monthly checks that her mother had been banking for eight years and which would continue to come until she finished school were a safety net of the most profound sort.

But, of course, those funds were woefully inadequate. So, how on earth did she manage? A question, by the way, that the adored uncle asked many years later when he reflected on his lack of support for her efforts.

There was a student loan program during the 1960's. It was funded totally by the government, offering a 1-2% interest rate and a 10 year pay-back option. Interesting that we are seeing a return to that concept. Happily, as it was a God-send for so many of us during the era of post-Depression frugality. After all, at that time it was not ASSUMED that families should provide a college education for every child. In fact, women were often directed to look at just one year of enrollment, with the underlying hope that they would then matriculate with an MRS. Degree. If that failed, then a teaching certificate was suggested so that the woman would have "something to fall back on." Many of us had to fall back immediately upon graduation, a thought that was foreign to scores of folks during that highly stereotypical period of American life.

There was also a student employment program. Campus jobs designed to allow learners to effectively juggle class schedules and work hours. Yet another vital safety net that our young heroine took full advantage of.

But, all of those threads would not have created the strong fabric that would allow her to be successful. It took an outright grant of money from the university. That most coveted assistance, a scholarship. In reality, she could not have arranged this by herself, as she had exemplary grades but mediocre SAT scores. It took the BMOC brother to work behind the scenes to secure a Presidential Scholarship. Once this rail of her financial structure was secured, then it was up to the young woman to produce. Something she was able to do. With help, of course. Like that of Pat Cecil (now Edwards), with whom she shared notes when either of them decided to "sleep in" rather than go to class. With the kindness of the wonderful Hattie, cook at the Theta house, who would leave food for her when the kitchen was closed. You see, Hattie knew that she did not have the money to eat out.

So, in reality, it took a village for our young heroine to accomplish what would enable her to create a highly successful, wonderfully enriched life. She fell back on that teaching certificate, eventually moved into the field of counseling, and ultimately completed a doctorate. She became a public speaker, a professor, and served clients for over 30 years as a mental health professional. Those discretionary funds that SMU's President awarded to her were well spent. They allowed a young woman to become rather than to just exist.

And now our heroine chooses to be a part of that village of support for other young people. Her hard-earned dollars are now shared with those who, like her, couldn't do it alone. Like other gifts that keep on giving, it brings her great joy.

So, next time a friend asks how she/I got to SMU, I think I'll simply say, "Well, it's a long story. Care to have a drink and hear about it??"

I'll hope the questioner accepts the invitation and sits down to hear the tale. For such is the story of many learners.

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