Judging by what I see from my friends on social media, we are in the season of sending our kids off to college.
This year marks the fourth August we have experienced this, and next year we’ll go through the exercise with two kids. But whether this is the first time or a repeat experience, the act of loading a vehicle down with dorm or apartment stuff and hugging my son goodbye inevitably takes me back to that special time in my life when I made that journey for the first time.
In late summer 1988, my mom, grandmother and youngest brother loaded my stuff in the family car and drove to Troy, Ala. Dad was on a mission trip in Ecuador, so my freshman year began with unlikely entourage making the 8-hour trek from Lake Wales, Fla.
From my first day on campus at what was then called Troy State University, I made good friends with guys like Peter, Tom, Ross, Donavan, and Trey. David, who would become my roommate for nearly two years, and I met the first week as freshman tutors in the Writing Center.
As an extrovert, the college experience suited me perfectly. I thrived on the independence to make my own choices: when to go to bed, who to hang out with, what to eat, how much time to devote to studying. I excelled academically, and I enjoyed interacting with professors, particularly the journalism faculty.
A key to my happiness that first year was finding Campus Outreach. The evangelical campus ministry proved to be a safe place to grow in my faith and meet other people who had similar beliefs and faced similar challenges. Fun outings, meaningful worship services and connections to a local church expanded my horizons. Other groups that provided social opportunities included my Honors Program cohort and the staff of the student newspaper, The Tropolitan.
Dating came easily and naturally. If I saw someone I liked, I asked her out. One night during winter quarter of my freshman year, I happened to have scheduled back-to-back dates, and my across-the-hall neighbor, Dave, a football player, caught me between outings. When he found out I was about to leave for my second date, he dubbed me “the Love Broker.” It stuck because it was ironic. I was hardly a player.
I made friends with a group of guys from Miami who had somehow managed to make their way to Troy. My next door neighbor, Dino, shared a telephone with me, back when they were on the wall and had a cord. Dino took his calls in the hallway, and he once freaked out our resident assistant by yelling “Com quem? Com quem?” into the phone. He was asking his parents in Portugese “With whom? With whom?” The RA, who knew Dino was from Miami, thought he was placing a drug order, fitting the “Miami Vice” stereotype.
Trojan basketball games were a thrill for my group of friends, particularly the Sunday afternoon when they set the NCAA single game scoring record by beating DeVry 258-141. We saw a ton of movies at the Pike 3 cinema, went bowling at the all-night Bama Bowl in Montgomery and frequented the restaurants along the Highway 231 strip on Sunday nights when the on-campus cafeteria was closed.
That first year there was no hint of the drama that would unfold with my parents, and I frequently sent letters to my youngest brother, drawing little “Calvin and Hobbes” comics at the top. Lyle was in first grade and wrote to me about his G.I. Joe action figures and adventures with the dogs.
My freshman year of college capped off a great two-year run of happiness and put me on a road to a lifetime of happiness. I hope and pray the same will be true for my boys on their respective journeys to independence.