For me, one of those places is my undergraduate alma mater, the University of Charleston, and its riverbank overlooking the West Virginia Capitol in particular. Since my graduation ceremony on that riverbank thirty years ago, I have made efforts to stop there when I could and get re-grounded. I have contemplated many of life's thorny issues there, while remembering the good times and good people I had met there. The riverbank has helped me in my life's journey, and will likely continue to do so until I die.
Yesterday was a particularly special day for me on that riverbank. Anna and I left Parkersburg that morning to attend the Governor's Cup Regatta, which is a big event at UC and brings back many alumni. Having been an oarsman at Parkersburg High School, I had been involved in the Governor's Cup back in 1975 (at that time they included a few high schools), before I landed at UC as a student and crew team member in the fall of 1976. I had been back a few times before (including one memorable time when Coach Buckalew drafted me into driving a motorboat on the river all day), but in recent years, it always seemed to coincide with a busy weekend of grading papers for me (I guess that is what I get for assigning 1500 word papers to my students).
So, for perhaps the first time this century, I made the pilgrimage to the Governor's Cup. Although the forecast had sounded bad, the weather turned out perfect. Best of all, there was a sizable crowd of alumni from my era who also flocked to the riverbank this year. It was fantastic to see so many long-lost friends again!
One of the reasons for the better-than-average turnout is because of Facebook. There are enough “older folks” who are joining Facebook, and while we had been reconnecting virtually through cyberspace, it was wonderful to see each other face-to-face again. There were lots of hugs, plenty of laughter, and even a few tears. My throat was raspy from talking so much, and my face hurt from smiling all day long. We spent the morning and all afternoon reminiscing on the riverbank. A smaller group got together for dinner that evening and continued the conversations well into the night.
Anna, a WVU graduate (although we didn't know each other at the time, we had overlapped in Morgantown while I was in law school and she was getting her undergraduate degree), was a real trooper throughout all this, especially since she had only met a few of these folks before during the ten years or so we've been together. She let me bounce from one group to the other, constantly in conversation (except for those few times when I'd be listening to Sue Bailey playing her guitar once again—her riverbank acoustic concerts were always fantastic!). She considered this to be the equivalent of what I had been through while attending her 20th and 25th high school reunions.
Afterward, she told me something that I considered quite special. You see, I never knew for sure if I was just biased about how great my fellow UC alums were. However, Anna said she was truly impressed with how everyone made her feel so welcome there, to the point of realizing that these may well have been a unique group of people who had forged some amazing connections through their time on that campus. She now has a better sense of how special UC is.
I am truly blessed to have had the opportunity to go to UC after high school. The small school setting in West Virginia's capital city was just what I needed to make that transition from living with parents to becoming an adult. I got an excellent education there that prepared me well for further degrees (special thanks go out to Dr. Evelyn Harris as well as several others!) and for life in general. I learned a lot in the classrooms at UC, but I also learned a lot outside the classrooms—attending various special events, working together on the crew team, engaging in student government, living independently, conversing with other students from a variety of cultural backgrounds, the semester I spent working in DC, etc. My life was enriched during those four years. That's why I go there whenever I need to get re-grounded.
I often dream at night about those undergrad days, and know that if I could ever go back in time (a hot tub time machine?), UC would be the place to go. I'm glad that I was able to return there yesterday and spend a day on the riverbank revisiting the people and the place that helped to make me who I am today. Thanks to all of those who were in attendance yesterday, and to those who helped to make it happen. To those alums who missed it, you should try to attend a future event—the reconnections are inspiring and invigorating. The UC riverbank will always be hallowed ground to me.