It felt familiar as we drove into town. The Taco Bell and Waffle House where we spent many 2 am mornings during finals still stood just off the Interstate. The open fields where the boys wanted to go cow tippin’ hosted fresh bales of hay. The stadium before turning into the main campus was filled with football fans.
I lived for four years in Arkadelphia, Arkansas while I attended college at Ouachita Baptist University.
I’ve never typed that sentence before.
In large part, I’ve spent the past 20 years hiding from that fact.
There’s a bunch of muddled reasons why. Partly because I have some personal issues with the denomination and partly because it didn’t feel prestigious once I’d gone to Vanderbilt Law School with folks carrying fancy pedigrees and partly because of a radical shift I underwent while at OBU on issues as wide ranging as drinking, politics, and judgment-based Christianity.
So I shut those four years up in a closet and almost never revisited them. When asked where I went to school I said Vanderbilt or, if pressed on my undergraduate, I said in Arkansas.
I was wrong.
The only thing that shocks me more than how wrong I was is how long it took me to recognize it as wrong.
I spoke knowingly about authenticity serving as a critical foundation in leadership all while having a hole in my own credibility.
Every life period, at least mine, come with good and bad. There is no perfect season. We’re human.
I left home for Ouachita sheltered, shy, fearful, and idealistic.
I changed my major from Pre-Med after failing to meet my unrealistic straight A standards and was unsure where I would land. Because of smart, caring professors, I ended up with a new life course and a major in History and Political Science. Professor Cole, my amazing history prof who has passed away now, told me I would make a great lawyer so I went to law school. When I walked by the study lab in his honor, I was able to show my children a photograph of the man who pointed me into the profession of law.
I was terrified of speaking in public, so Dr. Buckelew encouraged me to do something I was comfortable at for Intro to Speech (a required course). I told him I was only comfortable in front of children, so my first speech was reading The Giving Tree to the class like they were preschoolers. I made a 100 and went on to minor in Speech because of him. I threw up before every speech I gave but pressed on because of his encouragement. I’ve spoken to thousands of people because of Dr. Buckelew seeing something I couldn’t.
I continued working for Dr. Everett as head of the Chemistry Department even after I changed my major because we just liked working together. I worked for him for three years as an assistant. I studied at Moscow State University because Dr. Bass and Dr. Reid encouraged me to go on this brave trip after my junior year and helped me raise funds to be able to go.
Even more significant than the life path Ouachita set me on are the relationships I formed there. I met a beautiful bubbly girl named Alicia at the freshman mixer before college started who had been assigned randomly as my roommate. She was from Dallas, so we planned our peach and mint green matching bedspreads and room accessories over the phone after reviewing the selections at Wal-Mart. We lived together freshman year and half of sophomore year, and she is still one of the most important girlfriends I have ever had in my life. She and I are also still friends with wonderful other freshman from Perrin West hall – girls who bonded over a shared hallway bathroom and $5 Sunday pizzas. My junior and senior year, I roomed with my dear high school friend Valeree. We lived in our first ever apartment our senior year – a rundown mess of a place we loved in the campus owned (now demolished) Starlight Apartments.
I pledged a local sorority on campus, Tri Chi, and those girls and I have hysterical memories. I have photographs of pledge week when we were upperclassmen that still crack me up. I saw several of those sweet friends at Tiger Tunes this Homecoming weekend.
I walked all over the campus with my husband and children and remembered all the good. The wedding I was in at Berry Chapel. The Tiger Tunes performances we suited up for in the speech building next to Jones Hall. The Saturday morning prep sessions for the LSAT in the poli sci building. The walks underground to the mailboxes in hopes an envelope might await me.
Those four years were beautiful. There was heartbreak mixed in with the hilarity and problems mixed in with the progress, but how foolish to let all the good get tucked away.
This weekend ended up being such a surprise to me. I am tremendously grateful for how those four years formed who I have become, more transformatively than any other period I can identify.
Maybe my story can encourage you. If there’s a piece of your history you have tucked away because it doesn’t fit into some imaginary storyline or it wasn’t perfect and untainted, then let me encourage you to dust it off. There is good there, and there is you there, and we shouldn’t bury part of who we are or the process of becoming.