Sunday, June 10, 2012

Embracing My Potential: Lessons from Eastern Kentucky University

Recently, I spent a few hours on the campus of my alma mater, Eastern Kentucky University. I walked familiar paths and sat on familiar benches. I stood outside the buildings where I first realized I could be a person who wasn't defined by other people. I was me, just me for better or worse. No one cared who my parents were, who my grandparents were, who my aunts and uncles were, who my sister was, or who my friends were.People judged me on my actions, behavior, and attitude.

We talked about our upbringings, but no one really cared all that much. I made friends with people based on who I was. I started to realize people liked me just as I was, and those who didn't just left. Not everyone liked me or would like me, and I was okay with that because I didn't like everyone I met either. I experimented with the kinds of people I invited into my life.

Combs Hall
Martin Hall
As I walked around campus, I remembered old friends, former loves, and even a few out and out enemies. Yes, there were people who hated me. Funny how it didn't bother me then though it would in later years, but I digress. I remembered laughter and tears. I remembered betrayals and rescues. I remembered learning the difference between friends and acquaintances. I remembered the first time in my life I understood love. I remembered meeting the man who would become my husband. I remembered a few classes that particularly stood out. I remembered feeling like I could do anything.

The Stratton Building
"My" Dock
I went to the Stratton building and sat on the rail looking down at the dock where I'd spent so much of my time, thinking, studying, feeding fish, just watching the water. (See the poem I wrote about it after my 2010 visit to EKU in Reflections in Silhouette: Poems .) In the two years since I'd been on campus, the dock had further deteriorated. I took a few photos and thought about how during my 2010 visit, I'd thought it reminded me of how much I'd changed in the years since college. Looking at it this time, I let myself shed a tear. It's amazing how many memories that dock holds for me. It wasn't even where I made memories, it was where I processed the dreams so I could set goals and the hurts so I could heal.

Palmer Hall and Commonwealth Hall
As I walked around wallowing in my memories and taking in the changes, I felt somehow heartened by the changes. Yet, I was disappointed I couldn't just wander into the lobby of the residence halls where I lived or the ones where some of my most memorable moments occurred. Security no longer allows you to enter the buildings without a fob or as someone's guest. I guess that's good for the residents, but it's rather disappointing for alumni wanting to take a simple stroll down memory lane.

The Chapel
I wandered in the chapel because I needed to see the inside again for the book I'm writing. I rarely visited the chapel when I was on campus other than when working as a Summer Orientation Leader and showing it during tours of campus. Once or twice, friends and I wandered in late at night to talk. This time I sat down in the quiet, cool room and looked around. I wondered if people use the building any more than they did when I attended EKU. I don't remember any of my friends going there, and the few times I stepped inside it was empty. As I sat in the chapel, I realized I had no idea if it had changed since I attended the university. I couldn't remember it well enough to be sure.

The building that stands where
O'Donnell Hall used to be.
As I noted changes on campus for my novel, I felt the pull of nostalgia but even more so I felt a sense of pride that campus has continued to grow and morph into an ever better place just as I've grown into a better me over the years. I realized I learned a lot about living in the moment when I was at EKU even though I'm sure those around me remember me as always being focused on my future. In many ways I was, but I also learned to have faith that if I did what I needed to do, the future would take care of itself. I never doubted life would take me exactly where I needed to go. Okay, maybe never is an overstatement, but when those doubts arose, they never lasted long. My years at EKU also taught me that change is constant and yet some things never really change. I learned to accept that change and growth intertwined and interdependent.l

Mostly, though, as I walked around campus, I remembered learning the most important lesson of my life... I learned being me was enough...

3 comments:

  1. I hate to dispute you on your blog, but, as someone who knows you I have to say I beg to differ on where you learned the final lesson you learned.

    EKU is where you started learning that lesson, I'll even agree some of that lesson became apparent back at EKU, but it took SEVERAL more years to take hold... :)

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    1. No, I learned it then. I just forgot it in the intervening years. We can dispute whether or not that was truly learning it, but it was the first time in my life that I ever felt like being me was enough. I may have "unlearned" the lesson, but I did learn it then. Accepting and learning a lesson are two very different things. And embracing a lesson brings yet another dimension to life.
      Going back there and walking around campus this time reminded me that I learned it then because I sincerely liked me as I was then even though I knew I was still striving for something better...
      But, that's just my take on myself...

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