“I wonder if someone from my family will be good enough to come here someday.”
My Dad was 20-years-old. To say that life was hard for him as a youngster would be an understatement.
His next-door-neighbor at the time, Linda Chavez, would go on to serve in the Reagan and Bush I administrations. But in the summer of 1970, she and her husband were moving from Colorado to California for him to begin a Masters program at Pepperdine University.
They were broke college students who couldn’t afford a moving truck, so Linda’s dad paid my Dad a couple hundred bucks to move their stuff to California. On an August night shortly before the LA Riots broke out, my Dad stood in front of Pepperdine University’s then South Central LA campus wondering if anyone from his family would be good enough to go there someday.
In February 2017, some 46-and-a-half years to the date later, I found myself sitting in the office of the President at Pepperdine University. The office features one giant plate glass window with an expansive view overlooking the Pacific Ocean, which is across the street from Pepperdine’s now Malibu campus. Our chairs faced the window, rather than one another directly. President Benton looked down at my curriculum vita, and rather than asking me about my jobs or education or serving on the Law Review, his first question was, “So, tell me about Glory of God Lutheran Church.”
My response can best be summed up as follows: For as long as I can recall, God has met me at the foot of mountains and consistently and devotedly, moved them out of my way.
Vivid, vivid dreams.
Dreaming is one of the greatest gifts I’ve been given. I have vivid, vivid dreams nearly every night. Each relates to my waking life in some way.
I began dreaming about the mountain in late-summer. Every night, the same mountain. Every night, I’d spend my dream driving a winding, curvy road up the mountain, seeking a location that I knew I’d been to, but just couldn’t remember what was there. Every morning, I’d wake before I got there.
Frustrated, I’d shower and get ready for work wracking my brain wondering where this mountain was. Had I passed through it? Was it somewhere I was going in the future? What was on the other side?!
I’ve been climbing a mountain since I was five-years-old.
As a kid, I never went hungry. I always had clothes and shelter. I never doubted if I was loved.
But I knew that I would have to work for anything I earned and I knew I needed to work my tail off to get where I was meant to go.
Nothing in my life has been handed to me. And I knew from a young age that nothing would be.
My Mom went to parent-teacher conferences in Kindergarten and learned from the teacher that I knew how to read. She doesn’t think I remember this, but I remember clear as day the moment I recognized that I “knew” how to read. We were in the library of Stevens Elementary School and one of my classmates showed the teacher she could read. Intuitively, I knew education would be my outlet. So, when she was finished, I told the teacher I could read, too. I found a book my Mom had read to me many times, “Clifford the Big Red Dog,” and “read” it to the teacher. Later that night, I “read” it to my Mom. And from then on, I was Alicia the Kindergartener who could “read.”
I wasn’t blessed with great looks, athleticism or wealth. But what God gave me to get through this life was a brain. And from a young age, I’ve learned how to use it and rely on God to take me where I needed to go.
The same intuitiveness that a 5-year-old used in 1989 to show that she could “read” led me away from the favorite location I’ve ever called home. In December 2011, I quit a job at a mid-sized law firm that just offered me a 15-percent raise during the height of a recession so that I could move into my parent’s basement and earn $15,000 less.
I remember driving to Crystal Cove State Park in Corona Del Mar, CA the day I quit my comfortable law firm job. I walked my usual route, but this time in a designer suit, until I reached a large enough rock to sit on a few feet into the ocean. Fully aware that I looked like a lunatic, I had zero cares about what others thought. Instead, all that screamed through my mind was,
WHAT DID YOU JUST DO?!
I looked out into the Pacific and watched pelicans nosedive into the water and come out with dinner for what felt like hours. I felt the wind breeze past my cheek and could taste the gentle salt of the California coast on my tongue. And while it made absolutely zero sense at the time, all I could hear in that moment was Him telling me, “Go.”
Leaving was the last thing I wanted to do. But it was the one thing that I heard so loud and clearly in a time intertwined with so much confusion. So, I stood and walked away from the one place I loved. I turned from a safety net into an unknown, all the while knowing I’d be back, just unsure of when or how.
Waiting for me on the other side of my decision to leave California were a world of people who gave me chances.
In 2011, one of my greatest mentors, George Zierk, called me and said, “Come home. It’s a pay cut, but you’ll get great trial experience. If you finish your cases, I don’t care if you go into the office and write. You can build your sports career here.”
What George Zierk did in that moment was give me an opportunity to make my dream come true. He knew my dream was to work in Sports Law, but what he had to offer was a job as a prosecutor. He was the most supportive boss and mentor I’ve known. When the NFL called inviting me to cover Super Bowl 47, he didn’t bat an eye over giving me a week off of work to do it. He encouraged every wild, insane dream of mine that at the end of the day, was completely unrelated to any task the job he managed me in required.
During this time, I honestly thought I was going to become a sports broadcaster. My agent was pitching me for jobs with major media networks. The one hiccup was that I had zero TV experience. So the negotiations stalled and much to my mother’s dismay, I was itching to get out of her basement. I thought about what else I’d like to do. I was a national officer of my sorority at the time and really enjoyed working with college-aged people. I’d begun a speaking circuit at sports law symposia across the country. So, in my mind, there was one logical answer: Become a professor!
Now that I’ve been a professor for four years, looking back, I realize how naive I was to think I could just become a full-time professor. People spend their entire educational careers preparing for this profession. They’re called PhDs.
Yet, five people–Windy Dees, Ty Martin, Sue Mullane, Paul Resnick, Warren Whisenant–and the administration at the University of Miami, gave me a chance. They hired a 29-year-old with zero teaching experience and zero academic publications to her name to become a full-time professor at a top-50 university. Over the last four-years, they built me into a professional, each mentoring and guiding me in their own unique ways. I will always remember the chance they took on me and treasure the friendships I’ve built with each.
In late summer 2016, I was sitting on my balcony in Miami that overlooks the Atlantic Ocean. For weeks, I was trying to fight off the agitation, discomfort and urge. My Dad says I have “rabbit feet,” and I know it’s one of my greatest flaws. I get restless. I live to prove my Dad wrong, though, so I kept trying to push the feeling down, to swallow it.
On my balcony that day, though, clarity smacked me in the face.
“It’s time to go.”
And I knew He was right.
“Where do you want to go, Alicia?” I thought to myself. “Pick the wildest place you can imagine, the place that surely won’t let you come. That way you don’t have to leave. That way–for once–you can stay.”
In October I sent a quick email to the chair of the Sport Administration program at Pepperdine University introducing myself in an effort to network. I figured it would get lost in a sea of emails in an inbox some 3,000 miles away and at best, I’d get a courtesy reply weeks later.
20-minutes later I was shuffling out of my condo and the phone rang. It was a Los Angeles number and if I knew what he was going to say, I probably would’ve fallen off of my 19th story balcony before I answered it.
“Alicia, I don’t know what inspired your email today, but I started this program three-years ago and just found out that we will be able to hire another professor. Obviously, I can’t make any promises, but I will let you know as the search unfolds.”
In February I got off of a cruise ship and drove straight to the airport to fly to Los Angeles. In the boarding area, I called my parents.
“Leesh?,” my Dad said.
“Did I ever tell you about the time I moved Linda Chavez and her husband to Pepperdine?”
“Nope,” I said.
“It was in the late-60s or early-70s and they couldn’t afford movers. I was a broke kid, so her dad paid me a couple hundred bucks to drive the moving truck for them. The whole time they were talking about how great Pepperdine is, this and that. They wouldn’t stop talking about it! We got there at night and went to the campus. And I just remember looking up at Pepperdine thinking, ‘I wonder if someone from my family will be good enough to come here someday.'”
I collected my thoughts and breath and shifted my glance away from the Pacific Ocean and to him.
“Well, sir, Glory of God Lutheran Church is the church I’ve attended since I was born. My Mom took me there and there, I met some of the greatest people of my life. While I could talk to you all day about the congregation, I’d like to tell you about my relationship with Christ.”
It’s a story of redemption.
Wrapped in and around my faith is the constant, consistent, redeeming proof that today–as always–He has met me at the mountain and driven me over it.
Today, I am humbled and honored to accept a tenure-track position at Pepperdine University.
Today, for the first time in my career, I feel like I get to build a home.
I wish I had a time machine, but I don’t.
I wish someone could go back in time and tell my 20-year-old Dad, “Yes. Just wait.”
Someone will go there.