This weekend marks 23 years since I graduated from college. I don’t think of it every year, but for many reasons, this year it’s been on my mind.
It was four years before that I spent a week choosing between Wesleyan and Georgia Southern. Yeah, you don’t get much more polar opposites that those two, do you? Coed vs. all women, small vs. large, close to home vs. a few hours away, and so on. I had a leaning towards Wesleyan because it was closer (seriously, that long drive with Daddy for Scholarship Interviews at Southern was very possibly a deal breaker–there was nothing on I-16!), and because Mama had graduated from there four years earlier.
Mama only had two quarters left in college as a Chemistry major at Valdosta State when, as a first year bride and newly pregnant, she was told by doctors it was either the degree or me. She chose me. With only two quarters left. I am humbled and thankful. So in 1980, she transferred her credits to Wesleyan and changed to a Psychology major. I remember her music class with Dr. Herrington. She came up with neat mnemonic devices to remember the composers–“Mozart’s in the closet! Let him out! Let him out! Let him out!” My brother went to the little preschool at the edge of campus while she was in class, and when we were out of school, we would go and sit in an empty classroom across the hall from hers. I remember sitting in the brown desks, dreaming of the day I would go to college. It seemed so far away then.
Because Mama was on campus regularly, she learned of things like the children’s plays and the Naiads–the synchronized swimming team. We went to the theater for the plays and for concerts. We watched the swimmers in their beautiful suits dancing in the water. I suppose it was only inevitable that Wesleyan won in the choice of college; she had already won my heart. I was home.
I made great friends during my years at Wesleyan, and I figured out what I believed. I loved the classes and assignments that made me stretch myself and explain what I believed and why, especially the papers for Dr. Ledbetter’s classes (my favorite may have been on the spirituality of Madonna’s “Like a Prayer”). Because I attended only four years after Mama, I had Dr. Curry for Psychology just as she had. My freshman roommate helped me bind my children’s book for Miss Munck the night before it was due. (I still have it.) We had a gummy bear throwing “thing” going on with our across the hall neighbor. (Some things you don’t ask about, people.) I may or may not know something about a vehicle driving across the sidewalk to get its occupants to Physical Science on time, because they had been watching the last few minutes of Y and the R. As a Resident Assistant, I found great friends in the classes behind ours. And I collected a great deal of purple paraphernalia over the years, as I was a Purple Knight. Wesleyan was where I learned to accept others, no matter our differences, and to accept myself. This is also where I fell in love with the theater, and I was thrilled when Sir cast me as the lead in the children’s play my junior year. I was going to be on stage performing for excited children, just as those actresses had when I was younger. What a blast I had!
I learned that time management was important (we don’t talk about Calculus II–EVER), and that laughter truly is the best medicine. I was thrown in the fountain for my birthday each year, and twelve years after graduation, I was married around the fountain which has the words “We Live For One Other” etched in the marble.
This year I suppose the memories of my years–was it only four?–at Wesleyan are especially poignant, as this is the year of the passing of the torch. As I sat with my older daughter on Scholarship Day, I wondered if she would choose my alma mater. I only wanted it for her if she felt like I had–that it was home.
I had my answer very soon. Scholarship Day was Saturday, February 9th. It was the evening of the 10th that my dear friend, minister, and sister Wesleyanne brought Aub to the hospital to say goodbye to Mama. Aub walked in, went straight to her bedside, and said, in a voice that was somewhat tremulous and strong at the same time, “Maemae, I decided about college. I’m going to Wesleyan.” I was in tears (and yet I thought–wait–we haven’t heard about the scholarship yet!). It was the day after Mama’s funeral that Auburn’s Admissions Rep, also a Wesleyanne and a fabulous woman, called her and gave her the good news. Auburn is the newest recipient of the Mary Knox McNeill Faith and Service Scholarship, and a member of the Pirate Class of 2017.
My girl has embraced her choice and never looked back. (As she was born on National Talk Like a Pirate Day, I suppose it was inevitable.) She is a strong woman, that one. I give thanks for that. She joined every Wesleyan related Facebook page she could. She has friended former and current Wesleyannes. She talked me into going back for STUNT–the awesome production that took up much of my life my junior and senior years. She even participated in a contest to design the t-shirt for the incoming freshman–and her design was chosen. Not too shabby for our future Graphic Design/Psychology major.
So as I remember my graduation, I wonder where we all will be four years from today, watching as this young woman sets out on the next step in her journey (which WILL be graduate school…..ahem). I am thankful for the strong women, some of whom are Wesleyannes, who strengthened her through their love and guidance and laughter. I am thankful for the men who encouraged her to speak her mind and taught her she can be anything she sets her mind to. And I’m thankful for her spirit–she has weathered many a storm, but like the Pirate she is, she has stayed afloat and is sailing afar, up for a new adventure at her new home, my alma mater and my Mama’s–
Hail Wesleyan, thou emblem of all that is grand;
The noblest, the greatest, in all this fair land.
Thine ideals are honored, thy name always blest;
A fountain of knowledge, the oldest and best.
A star in the dark is thy glorious past,
Forever and ever thy glory shall last.
Upholding thine ideals, thy daughters shall be
True, faithful, and loyal, dear Wesleyan to thee.
As she stands around the fountain under a star-filled sky, arms joined with her Pirate sisters, the sound of their voices raised in song filling the night air–for just a moment, I hope she will look up and think of those who have gone before, and all that lies ahead of her. And I hope, in that moment, she will smile. And dream big dreams. Like I did 23 years ago. Go get ’em girl. Pirates, all the way!