On Sunday, May 20, Corky Schoonover (left), 60, will walk the Lawn with his 22-year-old son Patrick (right), more than 40 years after he first began his quest for a college degree. (Photo by John Robinson)
“I came to UVA in 1968, the last year of the coat-and-tie tradition, and then I withdrew after the first semester in 1970, the year that women came,” Cortland “Corky” Schoonover told me. “Probably not the brightest thing to do, but I wanted to pursue a rock and roll career.”
Not a story you expect to hear from a 2012 UVA graduate, but this coming Sunday, Corky, 60, will walk the Lawn with his 22-year-old son Patrick, more than 40 years after he first began his quest for a college degree.
The father-son graduation will be a celebration the whole family can enjoy, but it will also mark a noteworthy convergence of two individual life paths. Corky, raised in Delaware, followed his older brother to UVA at a moment of American social upheaval. A prep school grad, he got blackballed from his brother’s fraternity, dropped out of school, grew his hair long, and hit the road for a music career, traveling the East Coast in an old school bus. It was, he said, a sign of the times.
“We lived in the margin of the American economy for years when we were in that band. But within the context of what was happening in the United States at that time, we were actually a pretty conservative group of people,” Corky said.
When the dream of a touring music career failed (after a stint at Berklee College of Music), he came back to Charlottesville to put down roots and start a family with his wife Laura, a local graphic designer. Since Patrick was born in 1988, Corky has worked in sales at Crutchfield and played in local bands for fun and extra money. You’ve probably seen him holding down the beats for the Skip Castro Band at a Fridays After Five event, or playing a party somewhere else around town.
Patrick’s path to UVA was different from his father’s. He attended Burnley-Moran, Walker, Buford, and Charlottesville High School, growing up across town from the University—you might even say in its shadow.
“There’s definitely a relationship between the people who live in Charlottesville and the University and often times that’s publicized as being a bad relationship,” Patrick said. “And I think as a young person, you can get kind of caught up in that and be like, ‘Well I’m not going to UVA.’”
The Schoonover tradition at UVA is a long one—more than 12 family members are Hoos, not including in-laws, godparents, and step-people. Patrick’s brother, Cort, graduated with an engineering degree in 2008, and his grandfather, two uncles, and an aunt have also inhabited the Academical Village at one time or another.
And then there’s his father, who fell in love with the city the first time he saw it.
“I remember driving into town with my father and being in the car and as we approached the city of Charlottesville I just went, ‘Oh. I know. I love it here. This is my place.’ And I’ve felt that way ever since,” Corky said.
Patrick enjoyed growing up in Charlottesville. He had the Skip Castro Band as a second family, an older brother at UVA, and lots of talents to develop. In some ways, that’s why he initially wanted to go away to college.
Charlottesville High School is really good academically, but it’s the public high school, so it still has that stigma,” Patrick said. “So growing up, at least in
high school, I’m starting to see the guys going to UVA and it’s like ‘Am I really part of thatculture? Do I really want to be a frat star, studying English and going to bars every night?’”
Corky made the decision to go back to school to finish his college degree in 2006. Patrick was still at CHS then, and his brother, Cort, was finishing his engineering degree. Since then, Corky’s pecked away at the credits needed for his Bachelor in Interdisciplinary Studies degree. He was happy to be a UVA parent and he’s been happy as a non-traditional student.
“Going through the process of seeing Cort go to UVA made me realize from a parent’s perspective what a great value UVA is, particularly for an in-state family,” Corky said.
As his second son wrestled with his college decision, though, he encouraged Patrick to make up his mind for himself, as he had with his first son.
“We know a lot of families that have said to their kids, ‘You can only go to school in the state of Virginia,’ and we never did that. Cort had the choice between Duke and UVA and he chose UVA,” Corky said.
When NYU offered Patrick a favorable financial aid package, he jumped at the chance to explore the possibilities that Greenwich Village presented. What would Bob Dylan do?
“I had no clue what I wanted to do with my life,” Patrick said. “I really didn’t know if I wanted to do engineering, because I was good at math. Or English ’cause I could write a little bit. Or did I want to try something crazy? So I thought, where better to go than New York University to try to figure out what you want to do with your life?”
Patrick loved New York and he liked NYU. But something was missing. The classes were too big. The professors hardly available. His advisor offered little advice. He started to think about Charlottesville—a place full of smart, interesting people where you could still throw a football around in the street. His brother’s graduation made him homesick.
“I remember sitting on the Lawn during Cort’s graduation and thinking, ‘Wow, you know, this is a really special place that has meant a lot to me my entire life. This place is cool and I want to be a part of it,’” Patrick said.
The tipping point came during a city planning class. College campuses came up and the professor brought up UVA.
“I’d forgotten what a campus was really like, ’cause NYU doesn’t really have one,” Patrick said. “And I’d forgotten that UVA is one of the prototypical American college campuses. I thought, ‘I’m from there.’ That still holds a lot of weight in my being. I’m not just from Charlottesville. I’m from UVA also.”
So he decided to go home.
“I was like, ‘This is a great university but this just isn’t what I thought a university was supposed to be.’ The camaraderie and whatnot. The honor code even. The traditions,” said Patrick. “It wasn’t the same and I was like, UVA might be the prototype but it’s also unique. It hit home most when I was farthest away.”
Patrick applied as a transfer student to UVA’s School of Architecture and started classes in August 2009, having never set foot in Campbell Hall. He was blown away by the small class sizes and the intensity of the program. In short, he fell in love.
“It was really cool and almost addicting to me. I was so into it,” he said. “To meet all these people who were having the same ideas that I was having that were totally different from what I thought UVA was growing up.”
On Sunday, Corky graduates from UVA with a bachelor’s in Interdisciplinary Studies and Patrick will get his architecture degree. The father and the son will walk side by side.
“I always say that we’re going to walk the Lawn together,” Patrick said.
“That’s what gets them,” Corky said.
“I know that it’s something that you wanted to do for yourself,” Patrick said. “That’s what I’m most proud of. You didn’t have to do this for anyone else or for your job. But you wanted to finish what you started. I think that’s really an important lesson to have learned from you.”
And how will the father feel?
“I know already that it will be very emotional. Because I can feel it now.”