Earlier this week, I caught myself glancing over at a small, nondescript house with a big front porch when I drove down Fourth Avenue here in Cleveland. No telling how many people pass this house any given year, and quite honestly, it’s easily passed if you’re not looking for it. The roof needs work, and the outside probably hasn’t felt a fresh coat of paint since the last of the Reagan administration. But I still look for it every time I pass down this small street. To me, that house will always mean only one thing– “George’s.”
You see, a long time ago, that house was the home of some very good friends in college (including George). I can’t tell you what I wore to work on Monday this week, but I can tell you the exact layout of that house. I can describe the back deck, the small kitchen, and of course, the spacious living room where it seemed like 200 DSU students would gather to enjoy college and all that it brings. It was a simpler day and time, for sure, but it seemed as if all of life’s troubles disappeared the moment you opened the porch door and made your way inside the house. It all sounds so stupid when I say at 46 years old, but that old house, and houses like it, were the best parts of college life. It wasn’t the professors, no matter how good they were. It wasn’t the buildings or the sporting events. Nope. Not in the least. It was the people who became your family.
I can remember the first time I ever walked in George’s. I was 18 years old and scared to death. A couple of my older friends had invited me to go this house with them, and it was my first “college party.” When we opened the door to the porch, a tall guy ambled over to us with a goofy grin, stuck out his hand and introduced himself as Chase. Shortly after that introduction, we walked inside, and judging by a quick look at my current text messages and social media, I have never left. The friends I made in college have stuck by me through some very hard times in my life, and I am a better person because of their friendship. It’s been some tough love, no doubt, but I always felt their support. Many of these friends have college kids of their own now, but in many ways, we are all still just as connected as we were when we were 20 years old.
What does all of this have to do with anything? Am I just having some bizarre trip down memory lane because I don’t want to grow up? Nah. These thoughts come forward because I am worried about this current crop of college students. We have all seen the current numbers. Enrollment is down at many places, including Delta State. The pandemic has created a culture where education is rapidly becoming an almost entirely virtual exercise, and social gatherings are discouraged if not forbidden. What will bring future students to a university? More importantly, what will keep those students at a university– will they choose the one with the best Zoom background?? Before the pandemic, our society was already becoming one nation under social media app. Now? This generation will not have any of the fond memories of friends and neighbors. They won’t tell stories about the time four guys sat in a house eating chips and salsa discussing the latest soap opera. (Yes, frat boys watch soaps!) Instead, 2020 students will remember Zoom and Canvas. They have Insta posts and Snaps that disappear as quickly as they appear. They won’t be able to dive back in time by simply looking over at a run-down rental house in a college town. They won’t be able to close their eyes and still see George holding court in his living room with everyone laughing together. There’s just no chance at our present rate. Unless something changes, today’s college student will have no loyalty and affinity to anything other than a laptop and a smartphone.
Is that really progress? Can we go back?