June of 1976 departed from meteorological custom and came to life in a string of sunny days that in the final week turned sweltering. No catastrophes clouded thedaily headlines. Developer Ernie Hahn continued to dicker with city officials over the yet-unbuilt Horton Plaza.San Diego cops,demanding pay raises,did some picketing. The Marines probed the death of a young recruit who'd been beaten over the head with a pugil stick during training. And all overthe county, high schools planned elaborate commencement ceremonies.
Most of the schools directed particular attention to the student or students who’d gotten As in every class every year of their high school careers. From among them, some schools picked one to be valedictorian, while others allowed two or more paragons to share the honor. On graduation day, many of the valedictorians gave speeches, and the question must have struck at least a few of those who listened and squirmed in their seats and sweated: How would these grade-smart, inchoate beings fare in the real world? What kind of adults would they be 20 years later?
AS SHE SAT WAITING TO DELIVER HER ORATION ON “Gratitude,” Oliva Mae Glorioso thought she knew how her life would unfold. She would go to college and get a degree in computer science, then find a good job working for some San Diego firm. She’d marry Rudy Victa, who’d been her boyfriend since the end of ninth grade at National City’s Granger Junior High. Their yearbooks testified to their faith. Rudy planned to “marry his wonderful Oliva, raise a beautiful family, and live happily ever after,” according to the caption under his picture. Hers said she would “happily share eternity with Rudy.”
They would have several children and someday buy a big house with an ocean view. All this would come without too much stress or toil.
Success had always come thus for Oliva Mae. “I started having good grades when I was in kindergarten,” she recalls today with characteristic placidity. “I remember in first grade I won a contest. I wrote a poem, and I was in the newspaper.” At El Toyon Elementary, she earned As, and by the time she reached the upper grades, she’d been classified as gifted.
It’s not so hard to see the high school girl she was then in the 37-year-old woman she is today. When interviewed for this article, her body had a fullness that betrayed the recent big event in her life: the birth five and a half weeks before of her fourth child, a strapping son. Her ebony hair was lush and uncorroded by gray. She looks Asian, and though born in National City, her girlish voice has a faint foreign cadence, one difficult to pinpoint. In fact, she’s one of two children of “real strict” Filipino parents. “So we were always raised, you know, you don’t talk back. You do what your parents say.... I remember them giving me money for each A that I got, and I always got a lot of As.” She giggles. But apart from making her practice the piano, which she disliked, she says she never felt pressured by them to perform well in school.
She had a lot of fun at Sweetwater High. “Too much fun!” The laugh erupts again. “I don’t remember actually studying so hard. I don’t look back and see that it was a lot of work.” Surrounded by friends, she was on the tennis, gymnastics, and badminton teams. “I also played softball, but I wasn’t on the team.” She did some track and field as well, but though her boyfriend was a football player, Oliva didn’t become a cheerleader because Rudy prohibited it. “He was very jealous of other guys...sort of a possessive-type person,” she notes today.
In her junior year, she competed in the America’s Junior Miss contest. “It was sort of like a beauty pageant, but talent, scholastic ability, physical fitness, and some other things counted for as much or more than poise and appearance. I played the piano for the talent portion of it. So it paid off. At least I had something to do for my talent.” She wasn’t reduced to reciting a poem or doing some inane mime routine, like those girls upon whom music lessons hadn’t been forced. She won the National City title, then went up to Santa Rosa and lost in the state competition.
Back at home, her academic success never faltered, however, something she views with some vagueness today. “I think the people I associated with were all good students, and my boyfriend was doing really well also. I don’t know if that made me keep up my grades. I remember doing our homework together. I always was good at doing my homework. But I never thought I’d be valedictorian. It’s nothing I really thought about.”
By the time she gave her valedictory speech, her college plans were secure. She had only applied to one college. “I knew in my senior year what I wanted to do, and the reason I knew is that my father was retired from the Navy, but he was taking some computer classes to get an AA and telling me how you could get really good jobs with just four years of college. And that’s what I wanted. I didn’t want to go and get a doctorate. I didn’t want to go an extra year to get a teacher’s credential or whatever. I just wanted to do my four years, get in and get out, and computer science was a booming profession. I think my decision was based mainly on laziness and greed.” She looks unperturbed, even amused, as she considers this.
Because the University of California at Irvine had a good reputation for teaching computer science, she chose it. She never considered venturing farther afield, “ ’Cause I was real close to my family. In fact, I would have gone to UCSD, but then they would have made me stay at home, and I wanted to live away. So UCI was the closest. It was still the University of California and a good school. And it was real pretty too. But yet it wasn’t too far, like Berkeley or something, where I could only go home once every two months. Here I was going home, like, every other weekend. My parents really liked that.”