Friday, February 18, 2011

Show Us Your Life: Alma Mater

I haven't participated in Show-Us-Your-Life at Kelly's Korner for a long time, but this one I couldn't resist: our alma mater. I loved college. It all seems like a dream now, but those were some of the happiest and most heartbreaking days of my life.

I attended Milligan College in Upper East Tennessee (now called Northeast Tennessee). People often ask how I got from upstate New York to East Tennessee. Three of my four brothers had attended Milligan, a small, private Christian college. In my memory, my parents basically gave me a choice of either going to Milligan or to Cornell University, where my Dad was a professor. I wanted to get out of New York, so I chose Milligan. And except for a brief period during my freshman year when I missed by boyfriend back home, I never regretted it.

I spent four solid years of my life at Milligan—my coming-of-age novel, were I to write one, would take place here. I came into myself during those years. I embraced an exhilarating freedom, not just from living at home but from the confines of living in a small town all my life where everyone knew me. I could break out, break free of labels and boxes.

I met a group of friends there that forever changed my life. Most of them are still beloved friends, and, well, one is my husband. We know each other's stories by heart. In college, past, present and future blend together in a way that is unique and perhaps not reproducible. Our collective memories are terribly strong from that four or five year time period. I am amazed at how easily we fall back into friendships, as if these past decades years were just a summer break.

With an enrollment of just around 1,000, my college was small. Everyone knew everyone else, which could be bad at times. But we have always been a community, and I am amazed at the alumni reconnections made on Facebook. We all remember each other, for the most part. We may not have been more than passing acquaintances back then, but we find that the college ties bring us together now and that we really should have been friends then.

I should probably say something about academics. I loved classes. I don't remember ever dreading going to classes, other than my education block classes and Earth and Space science. All freshmen and sophomores were required to take a Humanities program, which encompassed literature, writing, history, art, religion, philosophy and music. I probably was among a small percentage that loved this course, but everyone must have fond memories of all-nighters spent studying for Humanities exams.

I was an English major with a history minor, so most of my classes were in those two field during my last two years. I also certified to teach secondary school, so I had to take some mind-numbing education courses and do student teaching at a nearby high school. That semester was my hardest one emotionally during my four years in college, so I have a bit of a sour taste in my mouth for coursework then.

I know that I am glorifying my college days. It wasn't all golden lights and warm nights. I experienced heart-breaking loss more than once. I had to navigate the minefields of relationships and face hard truths about myself and the world. I struggled. But for the most part, life was good and sweet and easy back then. We all lived on practically nothing, listened to a lot of music, and shared our clothes and whatever snacks we might have.

How I wish for my children to have lives filled to the brim with the kind of amazing friendships I made in college. I know not all friendships come from the college years. I have a few good friends from high school, a few from our stint in Iowa, and a whole village of amazing friends here.

It doesn't take much to bring it all back so clearly: the hundreds of meals shared, the constant buzz of conversation, the anticipation of the day and night ahead, the adventure, the joy and the despair, the smell of lilacs, the perfect sunset, and the dark hump of Buffalo Mountain protecting our little campus, sheltering us in its cool black shadow.

My daughter wants to go to Milligan. If she can find half of what I found there, she will be one lucky girl.


  1. Stopping by from Kelly's Korner, bc I noticed you went to Milligan. I grew up in "northeast Tennessee
    outside of Elizabethton in a town called Bluff City. I always love going to Milligan's campus, so beautiful and peaceful. And, even though I did not attend the college, I have many friends who have found memories of their time at Milligan.

    Have a blessed weekend.

  2. Stopping by from kellys parents met while at Milligan 40-odd years ago! Been there many times and I always thought the campus was gorgeous!!


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