2008.06.04 Farewell to Berea College

Written by David Green.

By DAVID GREEN

I guess I’m done with Berea College. This family’s four-year association has ended with Rosanna’s graduation.

I’d never heard of the place until Tom Spiess of Fayette suggested it when Rozee was looking for a school. Tom is the college counselor extraordinaire. He knows surprising details about dozens of colleges.

Tom’s work as a college suggester was incomplete four years ago because he hadn’t yet directed anyone to Berea, Kentucky. I suppose it still isn’t complete—he really wants someone in the area to attend the Savannah College of Art and Design and Warren Wilson College—but at least he has a check mark beside Berea.

When Tom learned Rozee was next headed for graduate work at the University of New Orleans, he approved of the school academically but noted it has no football team—an essential quality for someone who knows every college sports mascot and probably the capacity of every football stadium.

Wait a minute, Rozee said. Berea has no football team either, however, it does have the nation’s longest unbeaten streak. Yes, it spans more than a century. The fine print explains they haven’t played a football game since they won that last one in 1904.

I made the six-hour drive to Berea only about half a dozen times during Rozee’s four years, but I know I’m going to miss the place.

I was a little concerned at first. I went to a very large public university. Probably almost all of Berea’s students could live in the dormitory where I stayed.

When we went into Rosanna’s dorm recently, I spotted the sign that read: “Excessive PDA (Public displays of affection) such as horizontal lounging, straddling, making out and other inappropriate actions should not occur in any public areas.”

What? No straddling? Actually, I don’t remember straddling making the list four years ago, but it’s there now. Maybe straddling started with Rozee’s class.

It doesn’t seem like four years have passed since we crowded into Phelps Stokes for the Ceremony of Dedication. Phelps Stokes is a beautiful old brick structure built by students over a three-year period starting in 1904. Maybe that had something to do with the demise of the football program.

The main part of the building is a large auditorium with a balcony around three sides. Everything is wood inside and I imagine the floors creaking as you walk across them during a quiet moment.

The Ceremony of Dedication marks the start of the school year for freshmen. The new arrivals and their parents find a seat in the auditorium and the faculty march in wearing ceremonial academic robes with colorful patches and cords.

President Larry Shinn told the freshmen to “drink from the diversity.” The truths that you know may not be the same truths for everybody, he said, so be prepared to learn from others.

His words convinced me my daughter was in a good place, and I believe she did sample the diversity of life.

Four years after we dropped her off and drove away, we went back for her departure. Once again we filed into Phelps Stokes, this time for Baccalaureate services.

A different speaker grabbed my attention. Dr. Dan Matthews, rector of Trinity Church in New York City, talked about the “language you have learned at college.”

Dr. Matthews noted one of the leading growth industries in America is the storage unit business.

People fill up their closets, then they fill up their attic, next they fill up the basement and then on to the garage. After that, there’s nothing left to do but rent a storage unit or two.

America seems to speak a language of scarcity, he said. Everyone needs more. We never have enough.

“The language of the dominant culture is not the language of this college,” he said.

He urged those 283 graduates to remember the language of Berea College, a language of abundance and generosity, a place where lounging is done vertically.

Rosanna has left Berea, but Berea is not done with Morenci. Katie Hollstein will take her turn at “the Harvard of the South” where “God has made of one blood all peoples of the Earth.”

Drink from the diversity, Katie.

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