It’s that time of year when a lot of parents are taking their children on college tours—but when’s the last time you visited your alma mater?
They say you can’t go home again, but that’s not always true. While I have fond memories of my years as a student at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, I made new -- and in some ways better -- memories when I went back to visit 30 years later.
There’s a big difference between being a starving college student working three jobs, and an adult who can actually afford to go to the restaurants they only dreamed about as an undergrad. And having time to wander about campus and check out a school’s art or musical performances is a wonderful change from just running from class to class.
I’m not saying that there won’t be a lot of changes—when I went to school, for example, there was one grocery store on Franklin Street, and if you didn’t have a car and lived on South Campus, it meant taking a bus, and then doing a lot of walking (which I was in much better shape to do back then).
Now there are stores of every type on just about every downtown corner; I’m sure it adds to the convenience, but I do have to say that I miss the small-town ambience.
That said, it was pretty fantastic to visit when I actually had the time—and money—to do things. I started my trip down memory lane by having breakfast at the 85-year-old Carolina Coffee Shop—something that I’d never done due to 8 a.m. classes and working every weekend. Then I spent time wandering through the Ackland Art Museum, (how did I not know that the namesake of the museum actually insisted on being buried on-site?) and took a trip to the North Carolina Botanical Garden, which houses an impressive collection of carnivorous plants, along with more than 2,000 other species. Again—who knew? I always had my head in a book. And though it was only a few minutes’ drive from campus, it was out of reach for a student with no car.
On a lark, I even stopped in the School of Journalism to see what had become of my favorite professor; not only did he still teach at the university, but he was in his office, so we spent a few minutes trying to catch each other up on the last 30 years.
I was happy to see that the university had added a lot more art to the campus than was there when I attended; and pleased to see that the Old Well looked the same way that it always had—not only when I was a student at Carolina, but when I visited the school with my own father when I was just six years old. I still have the photo of me sitting with my much younger dad (who graduated from UNC with a bachelor’s degree in 1951, a master’s in 1954 and a Ph.D. in 1960) on the steps of the well; now I have a photo to send him of his much older daughter on the same spot.
Speaking of different generations, you might even want to take your kids with you when you go back to relive your glory days; it’s kind of neat to watch them realize that before you were a parent, you were an actual person. I remember how surprised I was when my dad told me about the things he’d done on campus; it was so hard to imagine this distinguished older gentleman being a geeky Alabama boy trying to work up his nerve to approach a young lady for a first date. It’s also kind of awesome now to be able to share photos of my recent trip back with him—we’re seeing the same campus through different eyes, some shared experiences, and more than six decades of memories.
While it can be bittersweet to revisit what were much more carefree days, it can also be wonderful to relive that time in your life. While you might have graduated years ago, you would be surprised at all of the reasons to go back.
When’s the last time you visited your college or university? How much had changed? Tell us about it on Facebook.