Saturday, March 13, 2010

Back at Greenville

Yesterday I visited the campus of Greenville College in southern Illinois. I obtained my B.A. in history from GC in 1979. (This postcard from an earlier time depicts the college library that still served the campus when I was there.) A classmate who teaches at GC invited me to speak in chapel, which I was happy to do, and it was fun! I’m a roll these days to teach people how pervasive the theme of “the poor and the needy” is within the Bible, so I gave a version of the 9/22/09 post, “The Bible Really, Really, Really Wants Us To…” I got to chat with a few current students and appreciated meeting them.

I look back on my college years with mixed emotions. I felt very Charlie Brown-ish: willing to get in there and try but never quite in sync, and I took things very hard. (At the time you could go into the campus prayer room and write your prayers anonymously in a notebook. There, I realized how many other students struggled with similar feelings of loneliness and worthlessness.) And yet ….I liked many fellow students, enjoyed almost all my classes, appreciated most of my professors, adored the well-supplied library, and as I’ve reconnected with ol’ college friends on Facebook, and I realize, to my chagrin and gratitude, how much people liked me back in those days. “Good grief,” as Charlie would say.

The college (and, obviously, God’s grace) put my vocation on a permanent track. I stayed with my history major, which I’ve used in writing and teaching. I rededicated my life to Christ during my first year, began to explore spiritual and theological work, and went to seminary in the fall of 1979.

Since I allowed plenty of time yesterday to make the 1½-hour drive, I arrived at campus ridiculously early. So I strolled around a bit. This wasn’t the first time in 31 years since I’d returned; I’d been on campus a few times during the early 1980s, let twenty years pass, and then I’d visited the school again during the past several years. Along with other campus changes, the old library has been replaced by an impressive new facility, and the historic administration building was razed in 2008 because of structural problems. I moseyed into Marston Hall, which had “in my day” been classrooms. Two favorite classrooms on the ground floor are now offices (in one room, I “CLEPed” out of a whole semester), and the fourth floor room where I’d taken German class is now a conference room.

I remember that class fondly because my wife’s deceased first husband and I were friends and we “cut up” a bit in that class. Jim--Beth’s first husband--ran chronically late for things. One Monday morning he showed up to German class at ten-till-the-hour, proud that he was early. The whole class told him that he was fifty minutes late: he’d not changed his watch for Daylight Savings Time and, apparently, had made it through Sunday on the new time but got goofed up that Monday morning. Beth and I reminisced about that as we and several friends were regretting the upcoming, truncated night of sleep.

Across the green space, the student union is still there, but the old bookstore is now the mailroom. The book store, as well as the Marston Hall lecture room where I had my freshman intro-to-religion class, were definitely starting-lines for my career.

Years later, I considered writing my doctoral dissertation on the Neo-Thomist philosopher Joseph Maréchal, S.J. I recall reading an intro to Maréchal’s work which said something to the effect that Maréchal was so brilliant but had to spend some of his career teaching undergraduates. The arrogance of that remark made me throw the book across the room; I personally feel very blessed that God has included undergraduate education in his call to me to serve him! The commitment of my teachers at GC became a wonderful example. My feelings of loneliness and uncertainty in college was also instructive; what a great blessing a kind and interested professor can be to a student, not just in the subject but possibly for his or her life!

1 comment:

  1. I took various religion, psychology and literature courses in Marston Hall, and had chemistry lab in the basement (before Snyder Hall went up). My dad dissected a cat on the 'catwalk' between Marston and Hogue Hall.