Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Welcome Home Foresters! You're Gonna Make This Place Your Home!

Twenty-three years ago this weekend, my mom rented a van and drove me and my carefully selected and packed stuff to Lake Forest College to begin a four-year journey that would change my life. Like probably every other first-year college student, I was excited to be on my own and terrified, all in the same breath. I think I'd been away from home without my parents or other family twice, each time for less than seven days.

What I discovered from the moment I stepped into Deerpath Hall, which was then an all-freshman dorm and looked nothing like it looks now, was that LFC was like no other place I'd ever been. Yes, it was a small liberal arts school situated in a very affluent suburb 30 miles north of Chicago. Yes, it had a football team, a swim team, a tennis team, a basketball team, and a national-championship winning handball team. It also had an art department and theatre department. LFC had majors in everything I could imagine and extra-curricular activities in things I'd never even heard of. And yes, most of those things existed at almost all other schools around the world.

But there was something else. Something I couldn't ever quite put my finger on or verbalize during any of those four years and I've only come to appreciate in the 19 years since graduation.

Faculty, staff, and students genuinely cared for and about each other and it showed in every decision that was made and every action that was taken. Faculty members held office hours in dorms in order to make themselves more easily accessible. Administrators took students under their wings to mentor them from day one. The Admissions department didn't just recruit us to campus, they stayed with us throughout our college careers and checked-in with us.

Twenty-three years later, Spike Gummere, then the head of the Admissions Department, knows what I'm up to. I had more conversations with Ron Miller, the late Dean of Students, than I can count during my college career. After graduating, I enjoyed social dinners with him where he still challenged me to reach beyond myself and he even came to a Christmas party at my house one year. Jill Van Newenhizen, my calculus professor, not only worked with me when I struggled in Calculus, but her door was also open to me when I moved to Multi-Variable Calculus with Dr. Troyer the next year. Jill and I are still close and have dinner periodically. Nancy Brekke, Bob Glassman, and Arlene Eskilson left indelible marks on my life and fought for me when I secured an amazing internship in Washington, D.C. after graduation only to almost lose it because the agency failed to understand that I would have already graduated when I started the internship. Ultimately, thanks to their persistence, I got to keep the internship. Then President Eugene Hotchkiss knew me by name. He still does and so does now President Stephen Schutt.

When my mom tried to kill herself the summer I stayed on campus for summer school, faculty and staff came out of the woodwork to help me. They moved my final exam in my business ethics course so I could be where I was truly needed, with my family. They sent me notes. They opened their doors and arms to me. Students living in my dorm, some of whom I barely knew, helped me make the best of a very difficult summer by including me in everything.

I fell in love at Lake Forest. I dreamt bigger than I ever imagined possible. I went places I never thought I'd go. I made friends who remain my inner circle all these years later. I don't have to be anyone but me with them and they love me anyway. I explored my core beliefs and most fundamental values to answer the question, "why do I believe what I do?" In some cases, I discovered I didn't believe what I thought I did. I found my voice and believe me, it's never been silenced.

Those four years were filled with the highest highs and sometimes the lowest lows. And I wouldn't have it any other way because, no matter what, one thing remained constant.

That constant was the thing I couldn't put quite put my finger on back then, but I can now. Lake Forest College isn't just a college. It's a family. What separates Lake Forest College from all the other schools friends of my went to is the sense that LFC is home. The phrase "You're a Forester Forever" isn't just a cute catch-phrase. It's a way of life.

As I sit here tonight writing this post, I think about the new students who will be moving into Deerpath and the other residence halls on Friday. I imagine the journeys they will take. If I could give them a few words of wisdom it would be to open their hearts and minds to all that LFC has to offer. Find mentors in the staff, faculty, and the alumni. Experience everything. Be fearless. You're a Forester now. And you're gonna make this place your home.

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