This past Saturday, I went back to Boston College for the first time in a long time. (I graduated with a B.A. in English in 1998.) I walked the entire campus with my family and noted what was different and what remained the same. I watched my memory as it worked to reconstruct and recover experiences and names and stories. Sometimes it worked; sometimes it didn’t. Regardless, I felt happy as I walked from the academic buildings to the dorms, from the big library to the smaller library, from the breathtaking view to the quieter, still lovely view.
Still, having made my career in education, I couldn’t help but ask myself: why is this place so special to me after all these years? Why hadn’t it faded from my mind? And why would I go out of my way to return with my family — in the rain and on foot?
My fondness for Boston College has some pretty simple roots, all of which, I’m sure, were not planted by accident. They were designed, planned for, trained for, supported, and nurtured.
At Boston College, I was safe. (I realize that not everyone gets to feel that way on a college campus or in life. It really does matter, especially when you’re forming your identity and trying to learn.)
I had a few teachers — professors — who took a deep and lasting interest in my work. They encouraged me in realistic ways, never promising me that a writing life or a teaching life, or a bit of both, would be easy.
I formed deep and lasting friendships with people who helped me to be resilient and talked with me late into the night and ran around the reservoir with me and taught me the best of what they learned. (And these friends also encourage me in unrealistic ways, balancing out my professors’ more reasoned approach.)
I was able to find my own, unique path. Sure, there were requirements and rules and norms and limits. But, within those constraints, I felt like I found a story that was mine.
I had a job on campus. This meant that, without having to commute, I could earn the money that I needed to earn to bridge a few gaps. I could be in the library studying one minute and on my job site the next.
I was celebrated (just enough) for pursuing learning for its own sake. Writing poetry wasn’t practical. Reading old, unknown books wasn’t practical. Writing a thesis about epistemology and William Blake wasn’t practical. But because I fell into these pursuits so deeply, I came to shore, years later, with the ability to contribute in my chosen field. Each day now, I work hard with language. Each day, I communicate. Each day, I try to implement a vision great than my own. Poetry, literature, and William Blake made me whatever I am.
I was able to travel . . . into the city of Boston many weekends and to England, Italy, Spain, France — even Slovakia! — for my entire junior year. Graduation requirements didn’t hold me back; instead, they kept me loosely tied to Boston College, a home base, a place that was interested in hearing all my stories when I returned.