"I think one of the things I loved the most about being here was the feeling that anything was possible. It's just infinite choices ahead of you. You'd get out of school, and anything could happen."
- Jesse Fisher, Liberal Arts
Last month, Jordan and I did a lot of traveling back and forth to our alma mater, Faulkner University, a tiny Christian liberal arts college in Montgomery, Alabama. The town has a lot of great memories for us, and visiting the campus often feels a lot like coming home. It also, admittedly, feels a little odd, as we get a little older and a little farther removed from that history, from those days of our lives.
My cousin attends Faulkner now, and although I wouldn't have said so a year ago, the fact that she gets to go there, gets to experience and create her own history, her own memories, at the same place I went to school, means a lot. I read a couple of weeks ago that college is less about where you go and more about who you are. I absolutely believe that's true, and I wish someone had told me so when I was 18 and believed my entire future depended on where I went to college and what I did when I got there.
The thing is, though, most of my family went to a large, well-known university right here in Tallahassee. And when I decided ten years ago (!) to attend Faulkner, I got all kinds of side glances and passing comments from people who couldn't understand why I'd pass up an education at a top-ranked university to attend a tiny little school in the South. There were times when I didn't understand the reasons myself.
But then my grandmother got cancer, and I was able to be in the same town she was. When my grandfather decided to write a book, I was able to meet with him every month so we could edit it together. I met Jordan and discovered the best friend I've ever known. I met lifelong friends and developed meaningful relationships with mentors and teachers who trained my mind to ask questions and seek truth. I secured the internship of my dreams.
At Faulkner, I came into my own. I became the person I am still becoming today.
Now, I get to watch my cousin follow in my footsteps, but create her own path. I am so proud. I feel part parent, part sibling, part friend as I watch her embrace college and come into her own. I watch, and nostalgia sweeps in, and I'm reminded of the steps I took and the decisions I made, the decisions that all led me to this point, to this marriage, this job, this home.
In the movie Liberal Arts, 35-year-old Jesse Fisher finds himself back on his old college campus, visiting with former professors and mingling with 19-year-old students. There's a part of him that can't let it go, can't completely leave it all behind, and you think you're watching a love story between Jesse and this young sophomore, but really, you're watching a love story between a student and his alma mater. You're watching this 35-year-old figure out what it means to be an adult.
Some days -- when there are maggots falling from my ceiling or friends announce they're moving across the country -- I really miss college. I miss those tiny cement dorm rooms and friends right down the hall. I miss discovery and spiritual growth and transformation and the simplicity of it all. I miss studying abroad and reading books -- hard books, challenging books -- all day long. I miss writing papers and editing campus news articles and checking my mailbox for a note from mom.
I miss it, but I know it's not mine anymore.
When Ashley left for Faulkner, I was so careful to not gush too much. I didn't want her to feel pressured to do anything I had done: not the newspaper, not the church, not the social club. I wanted her to experience Faulkner her way, and I didn't want to mess with the magic.
A few weeks in, and she had chosen my old social club to be her own, and I don't even really know what came over me, but I flew into big sister mode. I didn't really think I'd care that much -- by the time I ended my career at Faulkner, being a member of Phi Lambda was the least of my concerns and commitments -- but I was in my bedroom, digging through my cedar chest, dragging out athletic jerseys and old Phi Lambda gear. I packaged it all together and mailed it her way, and I realized: This is what it's like to have sisters.
It's kind of wonderful.
Ashley will not have the same college experience I did, but in watching her choices and her decisions, I get to remember my own. I get to look back with joy and gratitude, and I get to remember what makes college -- no matter where you go -- so spectacular.
The magic, I think, is that we can all walk through four years of higher education and experience something so completely different from one another, and yet the similarities can be staggering. We all get to bond over this incredible gift: four years to learn, to discover, to become.
It's magic, and getting to see it through someone else's eyes all over again, 10 years after my own journey began? Well, that's pretty magical too.