Creating habits of mind and heart

How can you measure the impact of a college education? Even asking that question makes me think about studying the economic value that comes from each year spent in school and other abstract measurements.

What about the things you can’t measure?

I’m sitting on a thin, spring laden twin bed in Hoyme Hall at St. Olaf college. I’m here for my 10 year reunion and while I knew this weekend would be “fun”, I hadn’t realized how grateful, grounded and introspective it would make me feel.

Next door, friends are laughing with each other, my skin is warm and shiny since there is no air conditioning. And for the first time, with adult eyes, I’m seeing the things I didn’t see when I was on campus. The profound impact this place has had on my life and career. The bricks that were laid as we walked to the caf together, or shared study time on the floor of our dorm rooms.

I’m realizing with increased clarity that when we graduated from St. Olaf at the age of 22, we were just kids. There were many things I didn’t appreciate while I was here: the art on the walls, walking into a cafeteria full of healthy delicious food, without ever needing to clean a plate. The organic way you run into your friends absent the use of cell phones and plans.

When I was on campus I was acutely aware that I was receiving a high-quality education and that it was a privilege; at least that didn’t escape me.

President Anderson said to chapel full of alumni, that when at St. Olaf we were,

Creating habits of mind and heart.”

I was creating habits of mind by challenging myself academically, thinking critically about the world and my role in it. These habits have carried over into my career, the way I interpret and learn about the ever changing world we live in.

And perhaps more important, I was creating habits of the heart. Developing friendships that would last years. Learning how to treat my peers, classmates and friends with love and respect.

We also had the space to learn the value of building community. My classmate and artist Drew Beson said it well,

This campus gave us a safe place to grow up for four years.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

There is an unexpected refreshingly honest tenor to this reunion. The word “reunion” conjures up images of awkward small talk. But from the moment we started trickling into the dorms, people seemed to drop their guards and just talk to one another. I’ve learned about the great things my classmates have done. I teared up hearing Kristen Graves sing a song about what I consider to be a St. Olaf ethic of hope and service.

Nostalgia seems cheap, fleeting or even sad. So perhaps it’s not nostalgia I’m feeling and is more a respect and appreciation for this institution and the people associated with it.

We didn’t have cell phones when we were in college. Facebook didn’t exist. When we couldn’t get ahold of each other, we just had to meander around campus and hope we’d run into our friends. And we did.

Computers weren’t in classrooms. We had pens and notebooks and had rich classroom discussions. We valued the intimacy of being present with each other.

This weekend has been a refreshing break from the ball and chain of modern technology, cell phones and selfies. It is my hope that students today take advantage of the fact that St. Olaf’s campus allows you the freedom to not be socially connected at every moment. As evidence by this weekend, we know it’s possible.

And now I come back to writing this piece after another affirming evening with my classmates. I just rode in a bus up St. Olaf Avenue the smell of chocolate chip cookies from Malt-o-meal crept its way into the cracked windows. Rain fell from the sky, wiping away the hot summer day. The streets were dark, absent of persistent light pollution.

After arriving at Buntrock commons, I ran across the dark campus – rain falling on my warm skin. And all I could think was:

I’m home.

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