The graduating Class of 2017 (whether college or high school) might ponder this question: Fifty years from now, what will you remember from your four years of education? I can suggest some major themes and interesting patterns that are likely to come up, since Dr. Redshaw and I have almost 15 years’ experience of conducting a “walk down memory lane” with the Golden ‘Roo alumni at Austin College.
Each year as a new class graduates, the college invites those who graduated 50 years before to return to campus for a reunion. As we guide the alums through a reminiscence session, the overwhelming majority of their anecdotes relate to experiences with faculty. Instead of what they were taught (subject matter), it’s usually the feelings generated that are remembered.
From foreign language classes, for example, students tend to remember either feeling confident or being terrified as they were called on to speak German, French or Spanish. Most unforgettable for some was the day when a teacher said, in effect, “You’re in the wrong class. Try a different language.”
Often remembered with appreciation were the “Good Samaritans” who went an extra mile to enable a student to complete a challenging assignment or pass a course. One alum who came to AC from a foreign country felt that she was virtually adopted by her mentor and his family, giving her the equivalent of family support.
The best example of compassionate support was attributed to college president John D. Moseley. A student who had postponed taking a required class in math until her final semester failed the course. As she walked across campus in tears, she encountered Dr. Moseley and explained that she was devastated because she wouldn’t be able to graduate. He consoled and reassured her: “You can take that course over in Summer School and graduate in August.” With her confidence restored, she went on to earn advanced degrees and have a successful career—as a psychological counselor.
Humor and eccentricity make teachers memorable. Charles Ramsey’s class in Christian ethics was remembered by several students because of his unusual behavior while lecturing, such as rolling and unrolling his tie. Lectures by Classics professor J. D. Sadler regularly included puns and gags that helped keep students awake and alert.
Our yearly talks with these alumni have convinced us that student pranks of the 1950s and 60s were far more imaginative than any of recent vintage. A resident of Luckett Hall was the target of one complex maneuver. It was Saturday afternoon and a big dance was coming up when, as usual, Joe went to the showers with nothing but his soap and a towel. Upon returning to his room, Joe was astonished to find it locked securely from the inside. There was a narrow ledge running around the second floor of the building, so a helpful friend suggested entering the room next door to his and creeping along the ledge to access one of his windows. Precariously, he made it onto the ledge, but in trying to open his window, he fell off. He wasn’t hurt, but he had to come through the front entrance of the dorm naked, make his way through the living room (filled with visitors, male and female) and dash up the stairs. Eventually, a dorm supervisor used a passkey to get him into his room.
One coed we’ll call Jane confided to two friends that her art prof seemed to be paying a lot of attention to her. One of them suggested he might see her as a potential model for his drawing class, since that was a paying job. Soon a fake letter was concocted, on the college letterhead, complimenting Jane on her classic figure and offering to hire her as a model for the art department. These “friends” watched Jane approach her mailbox the morning after the letter had been placed in campus mail. They nonchalantly observed her body language as she read the letter without divulging its message. After waiting several days, they confessed and the joke strengthened their friendship, which has now endured more than 50 years.
It was in May 2002 that we began leading reminiscence sessions with each year’s Golden ‘Roo class (alumni who graduated 50 years earlier). We look forward to continuing to listen to the anecdotes which set the tone for a weekend reunion that stirs up a host of memories accompanied by much laughter and a few tears.
Jerry Lincecum is a retired Austin College professor who now teaches older adults to write their autobiographies and family histories. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.