I actually wrote this on Wednesday but did not have time to post it.
Yesterday, I drove down to Eugene, Oregon, the town where I spent four years of my life attending the University of Oregon. Before I went to campus to speak at a few of the public relations class at the Journalism school, I checked into the hotel across the street.
“Are you visiting the college?” the lady at the front desk asked.
“Yes,” I replied, then realizing she meant as a prospective student, so I quickly added, “But I’m an alum.”
It was weird saying that out loud. An alum. How did that happen? I thought to myself.
I didn’t like college. It was not the happiest time for me. Changes in personal relationship and my own identity led to months of anxiety and depression. I enjoyed certain aspects of the school. I had friends and I enjoyed several of my classes, but most of my personal satisfaction came from the work I was doing in the diabetes community. But the diabetes community in Eugene is very small and I spent most of my time wishing I was somewhere else. After spending four years isolated in this town, it really doesn’t surprise me that I was so eager to move across the country.
I remember vividly driving away from the campus, from the city, from all of the people and the memories, and thinking to myself that I was never coming back.
You can imagine my surprise, then, that I came back. The journalism school has changed in the way it teaches public relations and they are starting to incorporate more about social media. STudents are now required to blog in their Advanced PR Writing class and professors are active bloggers and participants in social networks. This is how I became reacquainted with several of my former professors.
I knew I was coming back to Oregon for my brother’s high school graduation, which takes place in Portland on Friday. Initially, this trip was going to be bump and run. I would fly in Thursday night after work, take Friday off of work, spend Saturday with my family and fly out early (and I mean early!) on Sunday morning and be back at work on Monday. But in a Twitter exchange, I worked out with my professor that I could come to speak earlier in the week, which led to my weeklong visit to the state.
So now I’m back. I’m sitting on the back porch of Espresso Roma, the cafe where I spent so much of my time before, between and after classes during the last couple of years of school. Most of my friends are now gone, though I do recognize a few faces. But the students here still look the same and it’s a constant surge of deja vu. Students sit at tables, drinking their dollar coffees (yes, coffee really is that cheap here), chatting about politics, the environment and the latest drunken adventures from the previous weekend. They lean over hundred dollar textbooks and notebooks, poring over their notes as they prepare for final exams next week. Or they have completely forgone any hope of studying and instead laugh with their friends. They wear mismatched second-hand and vintage clothing, colored sunglasses and berets. Their hair is unkempt or pulled back into low-slung ponytails. They look nothing like the people on the East Coast and I miss the freedom that college allows in lifestyle. I imagine this is what old-school Brooklyn was like before the yuppies made their mass exodus from Manhattan, what with the continuing rise in housing prices to the point where only the Olsen twins and Madonna could possibly afford even a one bedroom apartment in Harlem. There are no Manolos or aspirations to be Carrie Bradshaw, and even the professors wear jeans and flannel jackets as they bike to class.
I don’t miss college. I don’t miss final exams or changing professors every ten weeks and having to re-explain my diabetes – or even skipping the five minute lecture and instead praying that I don’t have a low blood sugar before an exam. I don’t miss having my identity questioned by every social circle I came in contact with – the hippie liberals or the Christian youth groups or the preppy sorority girls (no offense to sorority girls, or Christians or hippies – honest, I love you guys). College seemed like a never ending series of recruitments to save the environment or save the country or save the babies or save your soul. Out of college, it doesn’t seem like anyone is doing any recruitment for anything. Half the time you can’t even do that because it’s against some kind of corporate code where you’re supposed to remain objective and just focus on your job. No one asks you who you voted for, no one asks you if you go to church and no one asks you if you want to save the whales.
They say you can never go home again and this is true. It’s even more true if you never even considered the your home. Your mind keeps the place in a weird time warp and I wonder if enough time will ever pass for me to like Eugene and forget some of the terrible insecurities this placed reminds me of.
But as I sit here, I instinctively turn towards the back door of the patio. I hear it creak open and my subconscious briefly hopes that the person walking in is a friend with whom I spent so many hours, laughing with, debating with and simply sitting with. I realize that this place changed me and influenced the person I have become and for that I must, at the very least, respect it and be grateful.