I’m always overwhelmed with nostalgia during the holidays as I reflect on the multitude of changes in my life from the year gone by. It’s a strange mixture of emotions both foreign and familiar to return home after an absence, reintegrating with the people, places and traditions that defined your past but interacting with them as a different person characterized by the passage of time and new experiences.
That was my sentiment during a recent visit to Elon University, the school I called home for four years. Whenever I return to campus, I’m always struck by how much has changed and how much stays the same. Whether true or not, I always think of my Elon self as my best self. I was more confident and curious then, brimming with hope and motivation and possibilities. Those qualities remain, but the complexities of adult life have wrought more uncertainties and frustrations over time. My friends were and still are my anchor, but now we’re separated by miles rather than a few yards of sidewalk. I feel like that person again whenever I go back.
The main quad looks almost exactly as it did during my college years. The brick sidewalks look the same, dusted with fall foliage and acorns. The grass is still pristine and verdant, and the flowers absurdly vibrant even in the pre-winter chill. An inordinate volume of squirrels still scurry across the grounds. The fountain still glistens, and students still try to submerge a hand in it when they think no one is looking.
But the road leading into campus offers a completely different view. A picturesque apartment complex occupies what was once a vacant field. The newspaper office where I spent much of my time is gone now, replaced by a multi-story building of workspaces and shops. New restaurants line one side of the street, while the other boasts a new, expanded School of Communications building with an enormous TV screen, news ticker and more state-of-the art equipment than I’ve ever seen up close. And that’s just one small corner of this constantly evolving institution.
For all my waxing poetic about my Elon past, I truly wouldn’t have it any other way. I relish seeing the school grow. I was always grateful as a student that it was a hub for innovation, and I can’t help but smile when I see the next generation of learners reaping the benefits of its progress. Like everything else in life, home has to change to survive and thrive.
It’s easy to yearn for happier times in a year as turbulent as this one, marred by political turmoil, hostility and high-profile deaths. Amid its accomplishments and milestones, even Elon lost a couple of significant sparks this year. I attended two memorial services this month for men who embodied everything that Elon stands for — J. Earl Danieley, who dedicated a remarkable 70 years of his life to the university as a professor and president, and Michael Rich, a professor at the School of Law who I only had the pleasure of knowing via my husband’s enthusiastic stories about his classes.
The deaths of these men are an undeniable loss for the Elon community, and another scar from the turmoil of 2016, but the celebrations of their lives gave me so much hope for the future because of the countless lives they touched. They lived and loved with full hearts even in the face of adversity. It made me want to be better, live better, as the person I always thought I could be during my own time at Elon.
We have to face 2017 focused on where we are going and what lies ahead. Like all of the places I’ve lived, worked and learned, Elon’s spirit will always course through my veins and shine in my heart, shaping who I become. Because to move forward, sometimes we have to look back. And I’m moving forward into the new year as resolute as ever thanks to a short trip back home.