As a high school girl back in the summer of 1970, I was thrilled to attend Tar Heel Girls State at The University of North Carolina at Greensboro. The idea of staying in a real dorm was fascinating; it didn't bother me a bit that the bathroom was way down the hall. During that week, I learned a lot about civics and government in a hands-on way as we created a platform, ran a campaign, and elected officers. We developed legislation and discovered the tactics of lobbying. But walking around the perimeter of UNCG was also educational, though in a different sort of way. The Age of Aquarius had arrived in Greensboro before it had reached my small town of Albemarle, and I was able to spy my first hippies lounging on the steps of an old house on a street adjacent to campus. They smiled amiably as I snapped their picture.
Forty-plus years later, I found myself on the UNCG campus again, this time visiting my niece Caroline. I'd been planning to visit her ever since she enrolled nearly four years ago, and suddenly I realized the urgency of the calendar it's her senior year! On a pleasantly warm November afternoon I finally set up the trip. I met her at her charming apartment in a quaint old house on West Market Street just across from campus wondering if it may have been the very spot of my first hippie-sighting decades earlier.
From there we crossed the busy street and followed a path through campus. We strolled through the Quad, students crisscrossing our path, scurrying to make their weekend plans. With pride she showed me the green-hued statue of Minerva, the Greek goddess of wisdom, near the Elliott University Center. We saw an inviting fountain with outdoor seating which beckoned us to rest, but we stayed on course. We went by a courtyard of trees near College Avenue where students had hung strips of paper conveying good wishes for others to read. We flitted through the Jackson Library, the ambiance of academia stirring memories of hours spent secluded in a carrel with my nose in a serious textbook. We escaped to the outdoors, sympathetic to those having to remain inside on a perfect Friday afternoon. On the open green space near the library was a poignant display of tiny US flags representing American soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. We took a deep breath at the somber exhibit and then stepped away to resume our tour of campus.
My niece pointed out buildings where she had taken classes throughout the years. We explored the Ferguson building, where she currently studies Recreation Therapy. We peeked into a room filled with equipment designed for therapeutic play and exercise. Though we were unable to spot any of her professors, she showed me pictures of them in the hallway.
Then we walked into the Moore Humanities and Research Administration building, the rounded entry area with tall windows creating a pleasing airy open space. There we ran into an old friend of Caroline's, one she'd known since freshman year. I smiled at their easy banter. I know the value of college friendships, having maintained a relationship through all these years with several girls I met at age eighteen.
We'd earned our rest and sought a break at the ubiquitous campus Starbucks. With our specialty drinks in hand, we settled at table just outside, where we could peek into the busy Marketplace convenience store. A great location for people-watching, we took in the constant flow of passers-by, commenting on the unique clothing of some and having to laugh about a few. We chatted about family news and a dozen other topics. I realized that I'd never spent quality time alone with my niece before. What a loss that would have been, had we not planned our afternoon together!
In the couple of hours traipsing across campus, I'd definitely grown closer to my niece. But I'd also hoped to recognize buildings that triggered specific memories buried within me. It seemed that most of those older structures had either been replaced or modernized. That is testimony to the fact that much money has been poured into this excellent university to keep it competitive with others in our renowned UNC system.
Too soon it was time for us to make our way back to her apartment. After all, my niece is a beautiful young woman who would, of course, have Friday night plans. We said our goodbyes, and I smiled all the way home thinking about my extraordinarily fulfilling afternoon.
When I arrived home, I looked online at a map of the UNCG campus, trying to retrace the path we'd taken earlier. Suddenly, the words Spencer Hall jolted me, tugging at a place in my heart. If we'd just walked behind the library, I would've seen the dorm I'd stayed in all those years ago! From the picture I found on the web site, it did not appear significantly changed. I suppose that is reason enough to return to this fine campus. Maybe at Caroline's graduation …
Debra Madaris Efird is author of Groups in Practice: A School Counselor's Collection (Routledge, 2012) and is a member of the NC Writers' Network. Her web site can be found at https://sites.google.com/site/debramadarisefird/home.