Gary Conkling Life Notes

Mostly whimsical reflections on life

College Decisions, College Fantasies

Wandering around a college campus whets the appetite of college graduates to go back to school and learn all the stuff you didn’t learn because you slept in an entire semester.

Or learn all the stuff that’s been discovered, proven or refined since you went to college – when Lyndon Johnson was President and the Soviet Union still existed.

mission_header_staticSo it was last weekend that my wife Carole, daughter Sophia and I were rubbing elbows with admitted students and their parents taking one final look at Seattle University before the students decide where to go to college.

Carole and I were ready to enroll on the spot. Of course, we weren’t thinking about those tiny dorm rooms, the uphill hikes to classrooms or the dank laundry rooms. We’ve been there and done that as undergraduates. Our thoughts were all about staying in the cozy Inn at the Market, with a fireplace blazing and a minibar, studying art, in Carole’s case, and history, in mine. Think of all the history I’ve missed in the last 50 years while I have been working every day.

Making the decision of where to go to college is a lot more difficult than imagining a return engagement at an imaginary university, with rows of new buildings, labs full of modern technology and departments stocked with stimulating faculty members. Hanging around eager-to-learn younger students would be exciting, too. We ate lunch with a young woman from Winter Park, Colorado, who was attending Seattle U to become an astrophysicist. I’m not sure that word was in the dictionary during my college years.

large_signag11At the introductory session, a soon-to-graduate Seattle U student, who also happened to be from Colorado, talked confidently and clearly about her collegiate journey, which started with confusion and boredom, but ended with a passion for working abroad on international development issues. She took a gap year off, went to Tanzania and  learned Swahili. She came back to campus life with zeal for her major, dedication to volunteerism and enough leftover energy to captain the college’s biking club. Listening to her reminded me why I slept in,

Sonora Jha, an associate professor in communications who came to Seattle U after a distinguished career in journalism in India and who recently published a book, described her approach to engaging her students. I was hooked.

Father Stephen Sundborg, the president at Seattle U since 1997, mingled with students and parents, asking where people came from and what students were looking for. When he spoke to the crowd, he emphasized the value of a campus community large enough to provide diversity, but small enough to know everyone’s name. He talked about learning for a job and a just society. Carole was hooked.

In the end, Sophia didn’t feel Seattle U was the right place for her. She will go instead to the University of Oregon, which also didn’t seem the right fit, but happens to be a whole lot cheaper. We respect her choice and understanding of personal finance.

But that won’t stop Carole and me from wishing we could revisit college life, to learn what’s new, to relearn unchanged truths, to relive some of the best time of our lives, to capture some of all that youthful energy.

It would have been special for us to revisit Seattle where both of us lived earlier in our lives and enjoy all this wonderful city has to offer. Having a daughter in college in Seattle would have been ample excuse for long weekend excursions and spending time, even if vicariously, “on campus.”

The University of Oregon is pretty cool, too. Sophia’s brother and sister went there. I watch Duck football games with a seriousness that golfers give to their golf balls and plaid slacks. Plus, it’s a shorter drive to indulge in our post-graduate college fantasies. And we don’t have to pay sales tax.



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