I attended North Carolina State University from 1989-93 and graduated with a BA in History. The other day, after dropping off my father-in-law at RDU airport, Shawn, the kids and I visited campus--the first time I had been back in over a decade. I enjoyed showing the kids Bragaw Hall--the x-shaped, laundry-less, a/c-less and generally ugly structure that I called home for my freshman year. I also showed them a couple of off campus apartments I lived in, some classroom buildings, the old Reynolds coliseum where State battled foes like Carolina and Duke, and of, course, the free expression tunnel (see photo below). Because State's campus is divided by train tracks, 3 tunnels facilitate student traffic from dorms to class. The free expression tunnel remains a forum for public announcements, a canvas for aspiring artists, and a really neat place for graffiti. While campus generally looked the same, the visit did make me pause to reflect on what I learned and what God did in my life those years. Here are 4 things for starters:
1. It's where I began to value the privilege of education and developed a passion for learning. Money was tight in college and I paid the bills along the way by working jobs at a hotel, a grocery store, a bank, a bookstore, and for a janitorial service. Because of finances, I took most of my 3rd year off from school to work and pay off some debt. After months of working in the dairy department at Harris Teeter (which included scrubbing the milk cooler on Mondays at 6am) and cleaning buildings, I REALLY appreciated getting back into class. In fact, I was so hungry to learn that I read the textbooks for my Russian history class before the semester started! While I was thankful for the opportunity to study, I was also challenged by one professor in particular to read, write, and ultimately think critically and to come to my own studied conclusions about history and everything else. This drive to learn led me to pursue other degrees but, more importantly, it birthed in me a passion for life-long learning. Now that I'm a professor, I think that modeling learning is one of the best things that I can give to my students.
2. It's where I discovered real coffee. I had been living in the land of Folgers and JFG (yes I was cheap) until one day some friends took me to Cup A Joe's and I discovered what a party in your mouth that cappucinos and lattes could be. As I've written the better part of 2 doctoral dissertations, a book, and several articles in cafes, I'm not sure how life would be now without places like Cup A Joe's and good coffee.
3. It's where I first experienced Christian community. With Kevin, Tony, John, Steve, Alyssa, John, Doug, Michael, Charlie, Leah, Lee, Charles and others, I learned to study the Bible, share the Gospel, pray, and see authentic Christianity lived out in front of me. All of us journeyed together in the faith while studying on a "secular" campus. Indeed, this real world environment forced me to reflect on my values and learn to defend my faith. It also helped that I was mentored by Vance, Rick, and Bob and ultimately I cultivated the conviction that the best thing I could do with my life was to help reach the world for Jesus.
4. It's where I became exposed to the cultures of the world. At State, we had students from all over the world and I especially enjoyed getting to know Muslim students from the Middle East and North Africa. Later, I would live for 7 years in predominantly Muslim countries (3 more if you include France); so I'm thankful that my journey of knowing and loving Muslim peoples began in Raleigh as well.
Well, it was fun to drop by campus, show the kids where I went to college, get a new t-shirt from the bookstore, and reflect on God's faithfulness then and now.