Sunday, August 16, 2009

Same. Different. 18 years later

Tonight I went to visit my sister and see her new dorm room.  She moved to college yesterday. She just decided to do so on Friday.

It’s weird enough that this sister, #4 in our 6-kid family, the one who was born when I was almost 16, the one who had just turned 2 when I went to college myself… it’s weird enough that she’s IN college.  It’s weird enough that she’s 20 now.  It’s weird enough that this is her second college, since she went last fall to a different school.  All that’s weird enough in my brain.

But tonight, I drove up the street that dead-ends at the college in my minivan with my two daughters in the seats behind me.  I drove onto the campus and pulled into a parking space.  And as I parked in a spot that overlooks the whole place, I just had to stop and digest it for a split second.

For it was 18 years ago this weekend, 18 years, that I drove onto that same campus in my 1989 Ford Festiva following my parents in the big orange conversion van.  It was so surreal.  In many ways, the campus is unchanged.  There are a few things that are different.  Very few. One big new building, some nice landscaping.  There is a sand volleyball court where there wasn’t one before. And let me say, that’s really the change I’d have wanted to be there back in the day.

In  August 1991, I was so ready for college.  I knew the campus backwards and forwards.  I knew most of the professors and staff.  I already had friends there.  Of course, there was a guy there I had hopes of catching, too.  (And I did, in short order, though short lived.  Not that it was a good thing.  But that’s another story.)  I was READY to go to school.  Happy to be there.  Eager to get on with college life.  And I felt a bit like I was already part of the “in crowd.”

You see, 24 years before I started as a student there, my dad was a young lad beginning his college career there as well.  Two years after his arrival, my mother showed up on campus also.  That story is one that is probably not uncommon.  Parents watching their kids attend their alma mater.  Siblings choosing the same school.  One of my brothers has attended this college as well, his first year after high school, which was my first year out of that same college.

The difference is that this school is a small Christian college.  And by small, I don’t mean like colleges that brag about a “small, cozy campus” of 4000 students.  When I attended, the entire student body was about 220 students.  Yes.  220. I didn’t forget any zeros.  I don’t know how many were there when my parents were students.  I know now they are having higher enrollments for freshmen, so I think they are currently a little over 300.

It’s not possible to attend a college that size and not know everyone.  That is good and bad.  It was great to have a big group of friends and basically no outsiders.  But there were days when I wished for the ability to blend in, disappear, or get away for a while.  It didn’t help that I was a representative of the college from my first semester through my last one, summers included, touring, singing, teaching, and promoting the school in dozens of churches and camps in several states.  That made it hard to bow out of the spotlight since it was my job to be in it.

I lived and breathed that place for 4 years and 3 summers.  And the night I graduated, I left as soon as I could walk to the car to head home.  I was done.  There are alot of reasons why.  My last two years, especially my final year, were not nearly the *total blast* that my first two were.  Life became complicated and sometimes dramatic, and I didn’t have the skills to cope appropriately.  And because of that, I left and didn’t return for almost 10 years.  I didn’t keep up with people.  I didn’t attend the homecoming event each year, and still haven’t.  Had I left after my sophomore year, I’d have been still a cheerleader for the college, happy to return and relive the good times.  But I didn’t leave then, and the fresher memories and experiences were not so sweet.   In the 14 years since I left, I’ve been back 3 times, well, 4 after tonight.  I’ve driven by the big sign on the interstate about 200 times, glancing up the road that disappears over the little hill that hides the campus.  I’m not sure what I look for each time.

So tonight, as I sat there for what was only 60 seconds in reality yet seemed like an hour, I looked over this place that was my whole world for a time and did not feel like I had come home.  That’s sad for me, and I hope that it won’t always be that way.  Going back is probably what I need to do to kind of start again, in a sense.

To start this new tour, we went to Joy’s room.  On a floor I lived on my senior year.  I laughed as I passed the kitchen and saw the furniture is still the same, at it was old when I was there.  There are two girls dorms, more like large houses really.  They are each 2 stories and have 12 rooms on each floor.  She is in what we called the “old” dorm, the dorm my mom was in when she was a student there, as opposed to the “new” dorm that was built some years later, though not recently, by any means. Sitting there in the lobby for a few moments, watching the girls bring in load after load of brightly colored bedding, armfuls of clothes, and electronic gadgets that didn’t exist back when I moved in, it was easy to remember coming in and out that front door a million times.  The sound of it slamming shut was so familiar.

We walked over to the “main building” as we referred to it when I was there, now the administration building, saw an old familiar face who was the youngest child of the coach and athletic director when I was there, a friend of our family’s, and now she is the admissions director.  I remember curling her hair at church camp one year when she had just turned 6, I believe.  Doesn’t seem possible.  Then we went across the drive to the new building, where I’ve only been once before, a few years ago.  I’m not sure how long since it was built, but it’s very nice.  There used to be a small house on that part of the land, it was the “music building” back in my day, a place I spent plenty of time in since music was my major.  It’s gone now, and in it’s place is a very large, pretty, new structure.  Change is often a good thing.

As I left, I backed out of the parking space and smiled to myself as just 3 empty spaces down from mine was parked a vehicle belonging to someone who began as a student there 17 years ago. He was a friend, a beau for a while, and then he married my BFF from college (who is sneaking away with me this week for a 24-hour husband- and kid-free getaway!). Now he is a professor at the school.  I just saw them this morning at church. I got to the little stop sign at the corner of the admin building and across from the new building, and I saw a group of people walking in, headed to the all-campus barbecue that was getting ready to start as part of orientation weekend.  In that group were new freshmen, some returning students, and there was my friend and with his son on his shoulders.  It struck me like a strange moment in time. He with his son, me with my girls, the old there with the new, ready for another year. Another year of space between the person I was then and who I am now.  Very VERY different, those two versions of me.

It will be interesting to have this interaction this semester with Joy there, being so close, making trips to pick her up and to visit for games or such.  I can’t say I’m completely looking forward to it, but I think it might be healthy.  We’ll see…


  1. Thanks for going to visit with Joy. She seems excited now :o) I'll bet she had fun showing off her nieces!

  2. How cool that there is so much family history in that college. I grew up being the only child to attend a university and it was far from 200's.....try 10,000 students! I never left my college town. I don't ever drive through the campus, but am reminded of my stay everytime I drive by the high rise dorm that use to be my home.

  3. Time flies, doesn't it? I feel like college was recent. But it really wasn't.

    Anyway. I'm excited you're doing a 24-hour getaway! that's excellent. Have fun!

  4. you know, I don't look back with much warm nostalgia on my college stuff either. and going onto campus brings it all back for certain. but as time has passed and I introduce buildings and sports teams to my kids, looking at it through their eyes has helped bring back the warm nostalgia stuff a bit. maybe you'll experience the same through Joy, and it will be great that you two will be so close in proximity to each other too.

  5. Parts of our college stuff (type and size of school, involvement, etc.) is so similar and yet, so different. I don't know many of the events that brought you to this place today, but I love the way you embrace change and confront fear ... in all aspects of life and I'm sure that this process will be no different. Thank you for sharing with us as you learn and grow.

    BTW -- I rarely see your page anymore & love the new background!

  6. This is a great reflection post!!! I could write a similar one about my high school... especially the size thing!


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