This week, a large number of students who have grown up at Good Shepherd ventured off to college.
Many of them headed to Clemson, others to UNC or NC State, a few to USC (the one in Columbia, South Carolina, not Los Angeles, California) and still others stayed in the greater Charlotte area.
Nevertheless, all these departures and subsequent conversations with parents gave me pause — as most things do in my nostalgia-filled mind — to go back 39 years to my own Freshman Orienation Week at Princeton University. (I know it’s probably called “First Year Orientation” now, but please for the love of God …)
Here are five of my top memories for that week oh so long ago:
- I remember the days and the nights. Why is that noteworthy? Well, it was 1980, the legal drinking age was still 18, and many of my classmates took advantage of the free flowing stuff, so I suspect there are some murky memories out there. I am so blessed (I think) that I never liked the taste of any of it. I wasn’t trying to be a prude; I just wasn’t going to do something that didn’t taste good. I still remember the odd looks I received when, on the second night of Orientation, I went to bed at 9 p.m., an hour when most of my classmates were just revving up.
- I was in a triple and one roommate got 800 on his Math SAT while the other was named for the capital of Ghana. True on both counts. My high scoring SAT friend eventually retired at 48 (brains do help, it turns out, especially at the advent of the internet age) and our third compadre, a delightfully eccentric engineer/photographer/philosopher named Accra Shepp, unknowingly prepared me for conversation with the Ghanians who come to Good Shepherd. “Hey, you’re from Ghana? Did you live in Accra?”
- Culture shock was real. Princeton is known as the most “southern” of the Ivies. And I suppose it is. That doesn’t make it southern. At all. Coming from the wide open spaces of Dallas, Texas, New Jersey from the first struck me as both old and cramped. I pretty quickly glommed on to anyone with a southern accent or Texan vibe. (How’d that turn out? I married a woman who grew up … everywhere but the south.)
- I took a vow of (temporary) tennis silence. Most tennis players lose their tempers on the court. As I teenager, I had been better than some and worse than others. I promised myself that as I was enfolded into Princeton’s team, I would not make a peep, no matter how badly I played or frustrated I got. And it worked for awhile … in fact, I remember a member of the women’s team (upon whom I might have had a temporary crush) telling me once, “I didn’t think you’d ever make a sound.” I played well that first month though ultimately reverted to my occasional racket throwing, profanity-laced tennis tirades.
- I had (and have) a great sister. Just before I left Dallas, my older sister Charlotte, who had been walking with Jesus for 10 years or so by that time, handed me a framed cross-stitch of Proverbs 1:7 that she had made for me: THE FEAR OF THE LORD IS THE BEGINNING OF WISDOM. For all four years at school, I studied underneath those words, and I am convinced that is why studying at Princeton did not threaten my new faith but instead strengthened it. I suppose that’s why I still have that frame and keep it in my office. As I think about the Good Shepherd students beginning their college journeys this week, I hope and pray they have a sister — and a church — just like that.