After graduating college in 1994, I came home with, among other things, a pile of memories in the form of a stack of photo albums, which I did not hesitate to show to my Grandparents when I visited them. In hindsight this might not have been the wisest move because all of them had helped contribute to the paying off of my college bills, and when they looked at these albums they all, to a grandparent, said, “How did you have time to do any studying?” Sometimes I look at those albums and wonder the same thing, but I remember studying, and I ended up with a pretty decent GPA, so it must have happened. It’s just that someone poring over books doesn’t make for such good photos, I guess.
I was digitally scanning those albums over my vacation last week, partly to preserve the photos better and partly because I can get the pages reprinted in a much thinner, sleeker, space-economising album from winkflash. The thing that has struck me this time about those photos is the fact that I could show them to my Grandparents, with not an ounce of shame or embarrassment.
I am a Wheaton College graduate (there’s a Wheaton College in New England, too, and people around here always think I mean that one when I mention it, but I mean the conservative Christian college in Illinois that Billy Graham attended). I definitely went through a phase in my post-college young adulthood where the institution and its ethos irritated and embarrassed me, and we may talk about that someday soon, but for now let’s just say that I’m no longer in that phase. I guess Wheaton wouldn’t be for everybody, but it was definitely exactly the right place for me at exactly that time.
In 2003, Wheaton replaced its long-standing Statement of Responsibilities (a.k.a. “The Pledge”), but in my day (she says, leaning on her cane and shaking her gnarled finger in your face), we had to sign The Pledge on enrollment, by which we promised that, as Wheaton College students, we would not dance, smoke, drink, do recreational drugs or have premarital sex. I don’t know how many kids went back on their word about this, and of course I know some who did, but I have a hunch that, whether everybody liked it or not, a higher percentage of the student body than you might think actually did follow these rules.
The biggest gripe across the board was about the dancing rule–everything else seemed sort of reasonable to most of us, I guess. (Square-dancing, inexplicably, was the exception, which sort of added insult to injury, really–although the square jokes that you’re dying to make now that you know this, are all probably valid.) Regardless of reasonability, though, the enforced absence of all those activities that essentially define the college experience for so many 18-22-year-olds meant that a) studying was a whole lot easier and b) we learned how to have fun a lot more creatively than our peers. Few of us even had TV’s and there was far more fun to be had than sitting in a common area watching the lowest common denominator show that the assembled few in there could agree on.
Freshmen and sophomores (in gender-segregated dorms) bonded with their “floor-mates” and with the students on the opposite-gender floor with which theirs had been paired. These students would walk around in packs, like fresh-faced well-intentioned gangs. Also, everything was reason for a party. A stone-cold sober, but usually somehow uproariously funny, party. I’m not exaggerating. Everything was party-worthy. Junior year Roommate-Jenne and I purchased some plants for our dorm room. I always named my plants, so I probably insisted that we do this, and then I might have thought they had a better chance at survival or something if we went whole-hog and christened them in the presence of our friends. Or I just wanted a reason for a celebratory study break.
Neither of us had a car, so I’m not sure how we got to the store unless we walked to the closest Jewel-Osco, but anyway, somehow, along with the plants, we procured a bottle of sparkling grape juice and some crackers and Cheez-Whiz, and sent out invitations to the girls in our corner of the dorm. (That year we lived in an upperclassman dorm in an alcove of three rooms. We named the alcove “The Cove,” and, as we were all English geeks, each pair of roommates named their room, too. Ours was “The Nook Obscure,” which was a phrase I nicked from a Wordsworth poem.)
I do not remember what kinds of plants Wordsworth, Coleridge and Brontë were, but I can guarantee I still remember a lot more about that party than many other former college students remember about theirs. And while we may have been quintessential dorks as well as geeks, there’s no denying we enjoyed ourselves.