My history met its future on August 19, 1990. That day it was buried under the reality of moving my things from my parents’ comfy Chicago home to a modest dorm with no air conditioning and a shared payphone in the hallway. Over the next four years, it would come to be a haven for the cultivation of my religious journey, development of my leadership skills, appreciation of lifelong friendships, and protection of my naive and sometimes broken heart.
Simply put, the years from 1990-1994 were epic. They were so epic that I spent the next 18 years of my life trying to create that same type of experience for college students as a college instructor, advisor, administrator, and student services coordinator.
Let’s just title my post-college years as In Search of Epic. I had experienced epic and was now charged with creating epic experiences for others. And while I’m not really sure if any of my students would use that word to describe their experiences, I know that I put in many long days and hard hours to make sure their college years were memorable.
But eventually, the early 90s turned into the late 90s, and the early 2000s. And before we knew it, I became that college employee, still in search of epic for her students, but realizing that what she really wanted to do was impossible. I wanted to teleport myself back to the early 1990s.
Sure, I would watch A Different World reruns in syndication or rent Spike Lee’s School Daze to get my memory fix, but that fix would only last so long. And while I love my life as a 40-something mom of three, I do sometimes wish I could return to the days of old. One weekend not too long ago I did that – with my children – who are now beginning the college search process for themselves.
It was epic.
We attended a 90s reunion weekend at my college, Tougaloo College, a small, historically black college on the northern edge of Jackson, Mississippi. That weekend I reclaimed the word epic, and my kids were able to make true connections between their intended major and the other important life stuff to consider when choosing a college.
Fyi, in Texas, 8th graders must now choose an academic course of study or endorsement based on their future career goals. I’ve been through this process so far with two of my three, and as I’ve watched them explore possible career and academic interests, I’ve realized that as a mom, in all epicness, I must also expose them to some of the other things in college that will help them prepare for adulthood.
This particular weekend, those other things included hanging out on the yard, witnessing their momma practice sorority strolls from YouTube videos, and hearing about memories from living in a dorm on stilts.
Exposure can be a teaching tool, and here’s what my college reunion taught my kids:
- You really do make lifelong friendships in college.
In 1990, we learned this at alumni day during New Student Orientation. As many college alums visited campus to tell us about the adventure we were just beginning, they were all very serious in talking about the friendships that endured in their post-college years. I’ve preached it to my students over the years, and my kids have definitely heard it more than once.
- Mom does know how to have fun every once in a while. I laughed a lot, I danced a lot, and I barely got any sleep. They saw me reminiscing with old friends as they explored the campus, and they asked questions about “life back then.” I wasn’t fussing, reminding anyone about homework, or limiting screen time. We could relax and have fun as a family. That fun often gets lost in the daily life stuff, and this weekend in particular we were able to have fun.
- Social media can be the platform for making connections, but real life interactions are the key to sustaining those connections. The cafeteria was our Facebook, the yard was our Twitter, and the yearbook was our Instagram. Even though many of us have flocked to those platforms and are a part of groups and pages that all relate to our college years, nothing beats reconnecting in person. I was glad to be able to meet wives, husbands, children and other family members of classmates. After all, I did see the wedding photos on Facebook and felt like I was right there, right?
- Despite the flag drama and the racist rhetoric, Mississippi is and always will be home. Through the years I’ve gotten some weird looks when I use the phrase “Heartfelt Mississippian.” Even though I grew up in Chicago, both of my parents are from there and we would travel there several times a year. My grandparents were there, my aunt and uncle were there, my cousins were there. How could it not be home?
- College is more fun when it’s a family affair. My grandfather and I attended the same college. I have two older cousins who attended the college.
And while I was a student, five other cousins were also students. As an only child, it was fun to be able to participate in the banter across the Thanksgiving table as to which school is better. And even if I didn’t participate, I knew in my heart (just as I’m sure the rest of my family thought) that Tougaloo was the best college. Ever.
- Diversity exists in more ways than one at an HBCU. I went to an HBCU because I felt at home when I visited the campus my senior year of high school. What I didn’t realize was that while skin color may not be much of an issue, diversity exists in other ways. HBCUs are a mecca of artsy students, nerdy students, entrepreneurial students, traditional college-aged students, and returning adult students. Differences exist within all people, and my HBCU was a safe place for the birth and development of many schools of thought for young minds.
- The civil rights movement was founded in the halls and on the grounds of HBCUs. Fifty years ago, Tougaloo College was pivotal in the civil rights movement. Students rallied and supported some of our greatest leaders on the subject of race and equality in Mississippi’s capital. When my parenting conversations get tough about race relations in our country today, I always tell my kids about Tougaloo’s history and involvement in human rights initiatives, because even if they don’t attend college there, it will always be a part of who they are. If you don’t believe me, read this from the National Park Service.
I know many of us tend to frown upon attending reunions, but this one was like no other! Have you had an amazing time attending one of your reunions? Tell me about it!
5 thoughts on “What My Kids Learned from Attending My College Reunion”
Toni, this was beautiful as usual. You have a way with your writing that was a true gift from God. I learn something else new about you and Billy didn’t know y’all were cousins. You know my reunion weekend was Epic because you were there. I plan on seeing you in two years with Thermo-bond in hand. Love you chic!!!!
This is an awesome read Toni Williams! I could not have said it better myself.
Toni, I really enjoyed this article. I have never considered taking my children to a college reunion which is actually a learning experience.
Great article as well as a good idea to allow your children to be apart of such an epic weekend. I know that it left a lasting impression on them to see our close knit family reunite and reminisce about the good old days at the Loo.
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