Fourteen years ago this month, I packed up my life and headed off to college at the tender age of seventeen. I was excited. I was ready! I had visited the campus over the summer and had instantly felt at home and now I was here on a permanent basis (except summers) for the next four years. I was so ready! Ready for a new environment, new challenges, new friends, new life. As the fall progressed, I was met with an entirely different style of learning than I had grown up with, challenges in the literature that I was reading, and the task of creating a whole new life and existence for myself.
I fell in love with the English department at my university, spending what free time I could spare between classes, homework, activities, and friends in the little lobby or in the office of my favorite professor, seeking his sage wisdom on a myriad of subjects or just having wonderful discussions. Dr. Larry Caldwell encouraged my discovery of Oscar Wilde and my love of Tolkien, we spoke in Elvish, sang in Rohirric, and honestly just enjoyed each other’s company. He was my Maiar in tweed and I still think he is just a wonderful person altogether.
I also embarked on the journey of making friends with complete strangers. During freshman Welcome Week ice breaker activities, we were told to find someone we didn’t know and hug them. I turned and hugged a young woman named Sarah, whom we would come to call Kietzie, who would become part of my integral circle of friends, composed mainly of a group of girls also in the class of 2004. We soon became known as the Freshman Gaggle or Catastrophe, depending on who you asked. Several of us were education majors, some Biblical Studies, and other areas of service, so we would see each other in class, in between, at meals, or just pop over to say hi and hang out. I loved that! Our doors and hearts were always open to each other in my large circle of friends, a hospitality that I have never forgotten and, I hope, learned from. There spontaneous trips to the movies, midnight shows to see Lord of the Rings before we all parted for Christmas break, snowfall ultimate frisbee, silly string pranks, shooting action movies around campus, and rewritten Christmas Carols.
In Student Christian Fellowship, I found a home for my faith and for my heart. The servant family there took me in to their hearts and arms and became some of my dearest friends. The time that I spent on Focus Planning Committee was some of the best of my life, growing and laughing and serving with my friends. We spent Mondays planning and early evenings on Fridays setting up for services and then eating dinner together before everything got started. These people became my mentors, companions, my fellowship. And I have never forgotten them. Several of them and I are still in pretty frequent touch and see each other every few years. Life has taken us on our own paths, of course, but that doesn’t mean that we forget.
There are moments on the campus that were wholly unto myself. Like napping on the benches on the circle in between classes in the middle of the day (the bells would ring and wake me up in time, PLUS, I got to see Trent Tormehlon). Sitting on a blanket in the sunshine on the lawn behind Morton and Brentano, weaving a crown out of silk flowers and green pipe cleaner for the end-of-year costume party. Hurrying through campus on the first day of finals, the fog still on the flagstones and grass, dropping off bundles off cookies, still warm from baking, here and there for professors, friends, ministers, and mentors. Heading outside during the first snowfall my freshman year and just walking in the quiet night. Buying flowers to be delivered in secret on Valentine’s Day, sneaking into dorms to leave presents, or hurrying to the campus mail box that I knew was picked up first in the morning so I could send out notes of encouragement, cards, funny letters or what have you. These were moments I didn’t often talk about (though I’m sure I did once or twice) but they were precious to me and have stuck with me through everything. I smile just thinking about them.
Those four years in Evansville were some of the best of my life – the learning, the growth, the adventures, the challenges, the joys. I remember those years fondly and enjoy going back to U-of-E whenever I can. I can only pray that, when my daughter is grown and should she choose to attend college, that she will have as wonderful an experience as I did.