Thirty-seven years ago, in the fall of 1972, the skinny nineteen year-old kid you see at right—me—stepped onto the campus of the University of Georgia for the first time.  I had taken no tour, asked few questions. Up to that time, I had never been awayTAC UGA pic 001 from home, not even to summer camp. I would have gone to a school only 35 miles away, instead of four hours, had not my community college advisor convinced me that maybe I needed to get out and experience the world a little.

And over the next two years I did meet a few people who were different from me. There was Charles, my assigned roommate my first year in Reed (AKA “Weed”) Hall; he was the first gay person I ever met. Then the guy who roomed with me in the basement of Reed one quarter, whose name I can’t remember, but who loved to skateboard, and had done so in Switzerland. (“Il skie sans neige!”  [“He skis without snow!”] he reported the Swiss saying of him.) He had also read Paul Tillich, of whom I had never heard. There was Katie, with whom I managed to have two dates (I was usually a one-date wonder), and who had traveled abroad also, with a symphony orchestra. She was surprised when she found out I was a Presbyterian, given my ultra-conversative theo-babble. “Presbyterian!” she exclaimed. “They’re some of the most liberal people I know.” Uh, not me, honey.

But mostly I hung out with the familiar crowd, namely conservative evangelicals, even as I felt a stirring within me to push those boundaries a bit. (Typical young adult stuff, but I considered my pushing to be sinful, given my upbringing in a fundamentalist church.) I got “strokes” from the Campus Crusade ministry I became part of, like playing guitar for worship or being part of a Peter, Paul, and Mary-ish singing group; meeting and listening to Mark Heard and Pat Terry, soon-to-be-famous “Jesus music” singers who were my classmates; and being complimented on my “boldness” against professors whom we all considered pagans who were distorting God’s Truth. Most importantly, I found friends.

What has occasioned all this nostalgia? On a recent vacation, Susan and I took a side trip to the university, only 30 miles off our route. I got to show her my old dorm (excuse me, residence hall), which had been vastly improved with a new lounge and access for students in wheelchairs. It looked so small. Reed was and is in the shadow of the stadium, which had had a good many gates and fences added. We saw Memorial Hall, where I remembered going to some Crusade events. It had been repurposed for offices. The old Union had been renovated and also augmented by a new plaza and bookstore. I became disoriented for a moment, because the shopping plaza had been built on the hill I used to walk down to get to the cafeteria, and there was nothing of the former landscape to be seen.

The memories were nice, but in the end, I was ready to come back to the present. I didn’t mind that the old landscape had changed, because that’s the nature of universities and of life, and the change seemed for the better. It was OK that buildings were repurposed, expanded or even torn down and replaced. And I was really glad not to be that skinny, shy, clueless, sheltered kid anymore.

For some, change is an enemy, if not the enemy. They try to look younger, sometimes going to great expense. They keep reliving the past, remembering those halcyon college years. They refuse to consider new ideas that challenge their established way of thinking.

I don’t like change for the sake of change, but I have been by and large glad for the changes life has brought me since college. Sometimes the lessons have been hard-learned. But if I am wiser, mellower, more tolerant, and a little more sensible, I thank God for whatever and whoever have made me that way. I like being a grown-up.

© 2009 Tom Cheatham

 

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