This semester, I am taking a course called “Campus Environments.” Designed to help us examine college campuses more closely, the course began with a simple journal writing activity: Write about your first time stepping onto your undergraduate campus. What did you notice? What was that experience? Thinking back to Ball State, I opened the journal and stepped into a memory.
The first time I visited Ball State University, I was doing so for a big evangelical Christian event called Acquire the Fire. I knew nothing of the institution, however, and we spent the entire time in Worthen Arena, so I do not count this as my first trip. I’m only mentioning it for prudence’s sake.
The first time I truly visited Ball State University, I was not visiting for me. I had been accepted to the University of Evansville and, though I had some qualms about its small size, I was pretty certain that was where I was headed. My best friend Kyle was considering Ball State for its meteorology program, however, and he asked if I’d go with him to check it out. I said yes.
We arrived on a Friday night, but we were supposed to stay at a friend of Kyle’s cousin’s. Driving aimlessly around campus, we were eventually given directions toward an apartment complex called “Windermere.” We made it there, and once we were inside, we realized we would be sitting in on our first college party. I don’t remember too much about that, except that we were continuously offered drinks (I think orange soda and vodka?), and we insisted that we were okay without. I know. Real Boy Scouts.
The next morning, we drove with the college students to campus and grabbed lunch at the Atrium. I remember being a bit impressed at the glass wall reaching two stories high and looking out onto McKinley. It was chilly but sunny outside, and a handful of students were sitting on a concrete slab and talking. I got some questionable S’barro’s breadsticks and pizza and sat down at a table with everybody. One of the college students, an RA named Drew, brought a copy of Expo, a student magazine, and plopped it on the table before me. “I heard you were into journalism, so I wanted you to see what we’re known for.” It was glossy, and the cover story was about “To Write Love on Her Arms.” I was impressed.
Drew was training to become a campus tour guide, and he let us know we’d be his pilot tourists. Over the next few hours, he walked us all around Ball State’s campus. I remember being wowed by the grandiosity of all of it. The brand new walls of Park Hall, the intricate lobby of the Letterman Building, Frog Baby and the Naked Lady at Bracken Library. Everywhere we went, there seemed to be students congregating and talking. The more we walked, the more convinced I became: This place was supposed to be my home.
That spring, following a heart-to-heart with my mom about why I wanted to switch my plans, I made the decision to go to Ball State University. That June, my mom drove me to campus for Freshman Orientation (and, too cool for school, she ditched out on all the parent activities). I remember bowling and nervous early interactions. Sickbert and Amberly and Kara. So funny how distinctly the early memories have been preserved. That Fall, I moved into Schmidt 323 in an arduous process that involved lugging metallic bedlofts across campus and up to my room.
The memories following all that are some of my most precious. My RA Chris’s face when I knocked the shrieker box off of the fire alarm. Jenny yelling at all of us for using our laptops at our first hangout. Colleen freezing her teeth and Lindsay Lohan eating her pinky. The time Mariah spiced her car (because “salt your tires” is confusing to Florida natives). Dry October with the men of Schmidt 3. Sledding at “Target Hill.” RA letters by the Schmidt-Wilson mailboxes. Student staff orientation three times. Christmas at the Zoo, also three times. Falling asleep during Heroes with David Johnson in my room. Gooble, gooble. The time Mariah, Kyle, and I drove to the “free BBQ” by the Chemistry department and then parked near it long enough to realize it would be a very awkward meal. The Island of Swin 3, with T-Bell Tuesdays and Fun Runs. My first real conversations about what family, faith, humanity means to me. Overcoming early homesickness and self-doubt and finding my voice. Szechuan Garden delivery all nights of the week. The all-nighter with Colleen during our final Finals Week. “Fish food?!” Great, excellent experiences with really beautiful people.
Funny to think those first steps were so unintentional and uncertain. They opened the door to a really remarkable, significant adventure. Don’t quote me on this, but that’s possibly the way that first steps work.