I must admit, I feel off the writing train. Just happened that way. I got busy, got a little lazy and just plain forgot a few days. But I am back and looking to pick up the pace. I am learning that to promise to do anything every day that is not eating, sleeping, and personal hygiene can be a bit ambitious. So, I am going to keep it up but give myself grace when I forget or just plain need a day off. I have been blessed to have been to and see literally hundreds of college campuses. It is one of the things I do when I am in a new city, it is one of the things I do when I am looking to explore a location, and I have been known to just drop by a campus if it is on the way. From community colleges to elite private universities, from urban universities to rural colleges I have found campuses to be beautiful, utilitarian, and a reflection of the place it is located. This post will focus on four campuses that I have imprinted on and have special meaning to me in very different ways.
Anyone who knows me knows me know that I am a sucker for a college campus. I love the vibrancy and life they have. I love that college campuses represent hope for the future, ideas, and inventions, learning and knowledge, regional pride and national image. There is nothing like a campus during weekends in the fall when the football team is playing, or the seriousness that drifts across campus when finals week is there, or how they can just empty out in short order during a holiday. I like how they resemble theme parks but for learning and growth. College campuses are remarkable because most have many of the same features – classrooms, labs, bookstores, athletic facilities, housing, libraries, and such – but they are also all unique. Like fingerprints they all have their own characteristics and quirks that work on some and not on others. They also fuse memory. That is why so many wedding proposals and family pictures happen on campus. They are deeply personal.
For my money and bias, the most beautiful campus in my opinion is the campus of East Carolina University. More specifically Fletcher Hall. It was where I started my college journey, and it is where I met my wife and started my adult life. Look, it is a traditional, boxy dorm building. A brick-and-mortar testament to the warehouse days of college. What I remember so clearly has been how my room could catch the fall and spring breeze. On a Saturday after the game, I would come back to my room and nap with the window open. The cool breeze would whip and keep me resting. My skin burned from the stands and win or lose there would be this smell of grass and charcoal in the air. I would usually wake up and take a shower and then look out the window at downtown Greenville. I could always tell if it was a good night to go out and spend time with friends. Sometimes, my girlfriend (now wife) would spend the night on the twin bed with me and I would sneak her out the side door the next morning and when we did that we would giggle and dash like we were running from the law. I never felt more carefree.
Years later I took my first job at Stephen F. Austin State University in Texas. I have written a lot about my time there, but my favorite spot was going to Homer Bryce Stadium. Unlike many other football stadiums, the stadium was open even when a game was not happening. That is when I liked it best. I would go to the stadium on a hot summer day and run the stadium concourse, run the stairs, or do sprints on the field. Students would go there and study, play ultimate or tag football, and families would literally have picnics there. When our daughter was born, we took her there to run off some energy. If you were lucky, you caught the sun go down over the pine trees in the distance or you could climb to the top of the stands and look out over the entire campus. On Saturdays it would come alive with games, the festivities of college, and school spirit. It was great.
I am a fan of tradition. College traditions help us all connect to a campus and at the University of Central Florida we have a Homecoming tradition called Spirit Splash. I have posted a video on this in the past and if you YouTube Spirit Splash you will not be disappointed. Let me set the scene. Spirit Splash is a pep rally but instead of a bon fire we hold it in the campus fountain, a massive reflection pond in the center of campus. Each year over 20,000 students rush into the pond to cheer on the Knights, fight for commemorative rubber ducks, water fight, and otherwise love their college experience. It is always held at a time when the heat of summer in Central Florida seems to have one last day in her and it is 90+ degrees. The students show up early, line up and prepare to get soaked. The best moment is about one minute before the whistle to rush into the water. The energy and excitement is amazing. You can literally see the students boiling on the grass getting ready to rush in. As the clock strikes noon, pandemonium. My spot was always on top of the stage, keeping a look out for the occasional sprained ankle or skinned knee but the students were always kind to each other. It reminds me every time that college means more to students than we know. These moments matter.
Finally, a spot many would not predict. The center of the Florida International University campus in Miami. Located in the heart of the Sweetwater area of Miami, this sprawling campus is in the middle of an urban landscape and you really would not know it was there unless you were looking for it. But once you park and go on campus it is an oasis. The acreage is beautiful with tropical plants, bright green grass, and the buildings have a modern and airy architecture. It is always hot there, even in the winter and students can bee seen scurrying from class to class. There is an Einstein Brothers Bagels there on campus and if I am early for a meeting, I grab a diet cock and find a spot at a table under an umbrella. As I sit there, I see the future of higher education. Student walk by speaking Spanish, German, English, Portuguese, Creole, French, and are every shade of brown you can think of. Most days, a DJ is playing in the union and their music spills out and fills the courtyard. It is so Miami and so the future. It is just amazing and makes me feel like higher ed is going in the right direction.
College campuses matter to the soul of our society. They have recently come under attack and I think it is because we have taken them for granted. We need our college campuses to set the pace for social justice, social renewal, social awareness, and social mobility. They are where most people can see the arts or go to a game, where they took field trips as kids. We must cherish our college campuses.