last night, i went to go hear one of my old professors give a lecture on the gospel of judas, back at Wossamatta U. the lecture was great, if a bit simplified for a general audience. i think it could've been a bit more scholarly, as during the Q&A session, someone asked who Iranæus was, and there was much groaning and hoots of derision from the audience.
the thing that struck me most, though, had nothing to do with the lecture.
it was seeing so many people i knew, and that they were so happily surprised to see me. i am missed, greatly. that wasn't what i'd expected at all; i thought i'd see some people i knew in the crowd, and maybe if we bumped into each other we'd politely say hello and move on. but instead, people stopped me and asked how i was doing; wanted to get together for dinner or lunch; and told me how much they missed me.
when my professor saw me in the book signing line, he got up and gave me a huge hug and kiss on the cheek, and he started chattering until his dean came over and reminded him there were other people in line. his dean, incidentally, was one of the people who came to visit me in the hospital in 1993. everywhere i went, i saw someone i had history with: the religion professor who spotted me as i went to go say hello to the photographer; one of my fellow alumni who was behind me in line; a dozen professors; staff i worked with; trustees. i haven't felt so homesick in years.
it's hard to describe the family atmosphere at Wossamatta U. i was trying to explain it to aamandarin this morning: when i started there in 1991, there were only about 1000 undergraduates on the main campus, and 250ish graduate students.
the admissions office made all the applicants include a photo, so that by the time you met them for your interviews, they knew your name, cold. it used to be a place where if you lived in the dorms or closeby, and called in sick to class, you could expect at least a phone call back. when someone had a personal crisis, everyone knew, and most helped as best they could. when your financial aid paperwork got messed up (like it does), the head of financial aid was the one who straightened it out. everyone, from the janitors to the president, would say hello to each other. want to meet with the president? just stop by his office.
now, that sense of family began to fade as soon as the undergraduate student body grew from one to many thousands of students. but literally, everyone that was there when i was a undergrad, who's still there, has that quality about them. not that we all sang kumbaya and held hands -- there were disagreements and rivalries, like you get anywhere. and if there was a rumor, oh, it was ugly -- everyone knew your business. so there was a down side, to be sure. as the school got bigger, they started hiring people for whom the sense of family and service wasn't there, and i think that's a mistake. that is the priceless thing about Wossamatta U. that no other school i know of has.
the university really stressed ethical behavior, service to others, and integrity and academics. a lot of small schools *say* they do, but we did it. which is probably why i am so rabidly loyal. and so homesick for it today. :(
the photo, taken while waiting for the Q&A to wrap up; it's absolute crap, courtesy of the Treo's lousy camera. but, i think that given the subject of the lecture, both speakers showing up as bodies of light is apropos.