What are the defining experiences in your life? One of the most significant ones for me were the three years I spent on-campus at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma (USAO) in Chickasha, a small liberal arts college about 40 miles southwest of Oklahoma City.
I continue to sort through the changes from that phase of life, which may be why I find myself going back to Chickasha, lately every year or two, to reconnect with the campus and others who attended around the same time I did.
Perhaps the college years are meaningful because, at least for traditional students, this is the first time that most leave home and are no longer under the watchful eye of our parents. As a fellow alumni, Heidi Rice, said at our recent reunion, “I didn’t know you could drink Dr. Pepper for breakfast” before she came to college. Campus life often lends itself to the creation of a new culture with its own norms, values, and beliefs. All of the ambiguity, the testing of boundaries, the epiphanies both inside and outside of the classroom … these broadened our horizons and opened our eyes to other possibilities and other perspectives.
What binds us together—at least those who shared the campus concurrently, anyway—is that we were fellow sojourners, trying to figure out who we were and where we belonged in the world at this crucial time in life. Sometimes, our college friends helped us through difficult times, like when my friend Dave Simpson nurtured me through being sick, probably with the flu. Other times, we, or our friends, only worsened the situation.
The microcosm of the college campus provided an opportunity to meet, interact with, and befriend, persons from widely varied backgrounds, places, and cultures. For the most part, the USAO campus, at least in the mid to late 1980s, provided a safe haven for this grand experiment upon life and all it had to offer.
These days, when we gather together as a reconstituted community of alumni we share stories. At least that’s what we did this past Friday and Saturday at the 80s, 90s and Beyond Reunion at USAO. I enjoyed hearing about people’s experiences and sharing my own, but this interaction often left me with a bittersweet feeling. As I recalled memories and looked at photographs from those days, it reminded me that none of us will ever walk that path again. That was a period and a place frozen in time. I have lost touch with most of my buddies from those days. Life goes on. It all brings to mind the lyrics of a Simon and Garfunkel song, “What A Time It Was.” The chorus goes like this: “Time it was / And what a time it was / it was / A time of innocence / A time of confidences. / Long ago it must be / I have a photograph / Preserve your memories / They’re all that’s left you.”
Today, I am thankful for the memories; grateful to the many professors at USAO who supported, encouraged, and even chastised me when I needed it; and, finally, appreciative of the ones who keep the fire burning by organizing the 80s/90s alumni reunions. So, thanks, USAO, for the imprint you left upon who I am today (with a nod to Ron Carr and his “tattoos”).