We spend four years in college preparing for the real world only to return 20 years later to find everything real and beautiful was right there all along.
A university is an isolate haven, to be sure. But why is it we have determined that it is false and the ecosystem outside is somehow true?
The principles that guide a university—intellectual curiosity and growth, creativity and invention, knowledge and recognition of history, community and tolerance, integrity and accountability—are not just noble ideas. They are its life’s blood. Tested and attacked and weakened at times, but always vital and somehow resuscitated because they are what makes a place like this tick. And when a place like this ticks humanity benefits.
In the history of human progress, when has intellectual and thoughtful collaboration not made us better?
We started our reunion at the Gridiron luncheon, a room of old-timers given the attention they were due. Links to the past polished, not broken, in a symbiotic relationship that is too often neglected. Give us your money and your loyalty and we’ll give you more than respect, we’ll give you youth. I don’t mean in years, I mean in the heart, because youth is as much energy and sense of interaction with the world as it is a number.
That was the first message, followed by a transparent look at the major problems in collegiate athletics—that is the minor leagues to the pros. No, not here, we have looked at that problem and we have made a commitment to student athletes: Graduation rates and GPAs on par with the general population.
Then off to the campus store to stock up on purple, the rival was coming, and it was Indiana. No name-calling. No disrespect. We could show our allegiance without demonizing the challenger because in this place it is understood that a strong opponent makes us all rise to the occasion. We work hard on our own game, and the reward is showing up, doing what was practiced with devotion and discipline.
We visited the director of Residential Life, a source for a story I wrote a few years back, who is on the front lines of human behavior. William Blake may See a World in a Grain of Sand, but after twenty minutes with this man, you’ll see it in dorm assignments and the way students and their parents let go, hold on, bounce back and land when they fall. Resilience is the word of the day and this is where it’s tested.
There would be reunions with friends, a term widely defined now that years had softened the insecurities that once drew arbitrary lines. Wouldn’t it be nice if we walked down the street with the same acceptance, remembering that we do have something in common, not only with classmates, but also with every human who ever lived?
We are all alumni of the hard knocks and joys of life.
But then, the image forever fixed in my mind, the most delightful intersection of all that is good: the Nobel Laureate and his research team riding on a float in the homecoming parade. The sun had set, the chill had arrived, and the crowd was scattered and almost unaware that the parade had begun and Fraser Stoddart, the pioneer in nanosystems, rode in on a homemade chariot, here to be celebrated.
We can celebrate achievement in nanosystems and the football game, our desire to learn and our common humanity
That, to me, is as real as it gets. And it felt like coming home, indeed.
Thank you for reading. You can check out part I and part II, or send me a note. And I post my blogs on my FB page, and would love you to join me.
PS. Before the reunion, I wrote about the 9 classmates who had died before the milestone. Here is the story.