This piece was originally written for Tracie Barnard's personal blog, Tabulations, on August 18, 2015.
It's that time of year again. When our students return to Bulldog Country (The West Tennessee version—not Athens, Georgia, don't you know!), increasing the income of our local "Stuff-Marts," and reminding those of us affiliated, both directly and by marriage, of why we love this Place. In our ever-expanding circle, this has been a summer of engagements, newlyweds, and new-to-them abodes. Moving furniture, finding out that the stackable washer-dryer acquired for free just might not fit in the basement without some minor carpentry work, and just where did we put that owner's manual anyway? As our own offspring mark milestones this year, we are also watching our "heart-kids" grow in so many ways. Navigating job offers, lease agreements, and the dynamics of newly-minted matrimony is a sweet blessing. And, yes, it makes us feel old. Oh wait, not old. Seasoned. Vintage. Yeah.
Realistically, some of these dear hearts will come and go (sniff, sniff) in a mere four years. While we delight in those "young adults" who have returned to the rhinestone on the buckle of the Bible Belt, post-Pomp and Circumstance, there are some other folks who have longevity here—they have put down roots and invested in this Place. They are those who welcomed us—or in some cases, we came in together. Another facet of this faculty life is the relationships that are cultivated as a result of being called to the same garden. Can you tell I just finished doing some yard work?
When I reflect back on my undergraduate days, I affectionately recall the friendships, roommate hilarities, and late-night runs to Taco Bell. I remember strolling down Worth Avenue, seeing "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves" at Value Cinema for the fourteenth time, and changing majors. Yes, Miss "I'm Going to be a Lawyer, Darnit" actually changed her major from Political Science to Pre-Law. And then from Pre-Law to Marketing. One of the best decisions I ever made. With help from that previously-immortalized Economics professor. However, there was some seriously amazing icing on that already delectable cake. The faculty.
For those of us fortunate enough to have some kind of diploma of higher education hanging on our wall—or packed away in a memorabilia box, there are professors of various disciplines who impacted our lives, both inside and outside of the classroom. Even those who unknowingly pointed us in a different direction than we may have had mapped out in our Daytimer of Life. I have written on this before, but there is a nifty aspect of that two-decade old wish by the Whale Tongue fountain that I never anticipated.
What friendships develop out of laboring towards a common goal. What rich conversations are had over a shared meal. What laughter ensues as stories are told and life histories are revealed. Like that time I asked my darlin' husband, with twenty minutes to go in the first Lord of the Rings film, how they were ever going to resolve this whole ring thing by the movie's end? I was pregnant at the time, mommy-to-be brain and hormones, you know. Or, how he stuck one of this flip-rings on his forehead, you know those rubber circles that you stick on the floor and then KAPOW, they flip up in the air and delight children of all ages? And it left a mark. A big, red welt right in the center of his forehead. Just before he was about to teach his very first class of Intro to Philosophy in Garnet-and-GoldVille? It's gold, Jerry, I tell you, it's gold.
It's also about sharing each other's burdens and blessings. Something as simple as a borrowed truck to pick up a load of mulch at our local DIY warehouse or bringing a meal to new parents. A friend who says "Absolutely!" to a completely, last-minute lunch invite because you just need to talk to someone who gets it? Or being the emergency contact on someone's school-related forms. Incidentally, that makes me feel super grown-up. So, feel free to list me on your form. I'm all over it.
It's about weeping together when hearts are broken over a life snuffed out far too soon—or rejoicing when that much-desired child is brought home to his "forever family." I could go on and on. But you get the point. I know you do.
Yes, Virginia, this Place would not be the same without the amazing cohort of eighteen twenty-two-year-olds that hang out in Barefoots Joe, play a mean game of Ultimate Frisbee, or create some of the most beautiful music I might ever hear. But a good lot of them will fly the coop after marching across the Great Lawn, clad in black robes, and Pinterest-inspired mortar boards.
It is the folks seated in the white folding chairs, flanking the graduates, wearing their academic regalia (or dare I say, coats of many colors?), dutifully fanning themselves with Union-emblazoned programs, "glistening" in the late afternoon Tennessee sunshine, who will continue to invest, instill, and inspire in this Place. And thus is the dynamic life of a college campus.
It's a very good thing.