Over the past couple of weekends, I have been able to take a trip up to Purdue University where I spent 4 memorable years making friends, learning about life and (after a serious flirtation with a degree in Physics) embarking upon my career in medicine.
Purdue was a wonderful place to go to college and was probably the perfect place for me, even though when I first started the application process it was just the lowly state school fall back plan. (What the heck do 18 year olds know anyway?)
Initially, there were a great many possibilities, but they were quickly whittled down to 2 choices, the University of Southern California (USC) and Purdue. There were more similarities that you might think, given that one is an urban, private school near the beach and one is a public school in a traditional Midwestern small town. When I visited both campuses, they both had a very similar feel and they looked like I imagined a college should look (lots of red brick buildings close together with some green spaces nestled in between). They both seemed to be pretty interested in me. (They were the two places by far that kept somewhat frequent indirect and direct contact with me). With the help of some scholarships the cost for both was going to be pretty similar (at least for the first year!) In the end, I chose Purdue and have not once regretted doing so.
It was great to have been able to visit twice this month. The best part of both visits was that I went with a few members of the family who had never been there before (first my sister-in-law and then my children) and tried to show them around. It was cool to sit next to Neil Armstrong…
and consider a run through the Engineering Fountain for old time’s sake…
It was great to be able to walk around campus and play the fun game of “Back in my day, that building used to be something else!” The campus has made a few chances in the past few years, almost all of which were for the better.
While I was looking forward to touring campus and trying to share all of our stories with our captive audience, the hardest part for me was that most of my memories did not involve a specific moment or event. Rather, so many memories are feelings. Feelings that were hard to encapsulate in a pithy story or factoid. (Although we had plenty of those, too.)
But so many sights took me back to those old feelings. The feeling I got when I would walk in the tight corridor between a few obscure buildings (the American Railway Building, anyone?) to get to my next class faster. The weary relief of finally getting out of that late Friday afternoon chemistry lab. The frosty chill in the air when you would take an early morning final in the Armory (nothing like taking a final exam with a winter coat on!) The exhilaration of the sun shining on your face as you walk home from the last class of the week when Spring was not just a dream, but a reality. Sitting at the Engineering fountain on my first weekend there, knowing that there are cool people and parties going on all around me but not exactly knowing where or how to get invited in, but knowing that someday you would find a way to get in. Walking up to the Hilltop Apartment that my best friends shared for some late night hijinks. Sitting with those same friends after four years, knowing that there are cool people are parties going on without you, yet now being confident enough in yourself and your friends that you were in the coolest place you could be anyway. The refreshing but stifling warm, dusty air in the Co-Rec gyms where you would play basketball for a few hours against relative strangers. Opening up your first ever email address, hoping that someone, anyone, sent you an email, before realizing that no one knew your email address (and no one you knew even really had email).
How do you take 4 years of moments and feelings and condense them for someone who wasn’t there with you? I suppose you really can’t and that was the saddest part of all. There was something that was yearning to burst out and be shared, and yet it really couldn’t be shared for no one else would quite understand, because they weren’t there with you at that time, in that moment.
Or perhaps they are a 6 year old and don’t truly understand what going to college means. But you show them all of the places you went anyway and wonder what moments and memories they will be able to generate and hope that they will hold them dear and treasure them forever.