Today’s post comes from Steve Grooms
In the fall of 1960 I became a freshman at Grinnell College. The class of ’64 went on to win a spotty reputation as perhaps the most talented but troublesome classes in college history. The 1960s were a turbulent time in higher education all across the nation.
Those years, for me, were amazingly transformative. I entered that period as a provincial, shy, sanctimonious kid from a small Iowa town. I was some sort of Republican, a passive sort of Christian. I was also a prig who was offended by folks who smoked, drank alcohol, had sex out of wedlock or swore. I had terrible study habits and little discipline. My first crisis was discovering whether I was equal to the challenge of college coursework. I spent my freshman year in terror of flunking out.
Even the simple business of living in a dorm was threatening for me. In high school I avoided two kinds of people: the boys and the girls. At Grinnell I was obliged to live in a dormitory with 30 young men whom I did not know. I soon learned my dorm buddies farted, got drunk and hosed each other down with language so vulgar I didn’t know what the words meant. For a while I wondered if I might be gay because the guys around me were so crude and aggressive that I felt I belonged to a different species.
Grinnell shocked me in good ways, too. I had lived 18 years of my life totally ignorant of the complex delights of classical music. The college offered live concerts with music so powerful it sometimes reduced me to tears. Among my dorm mates were guys who played folk guitar and bluegrass banjo. I fell in love with that until music was so important I couldn’t imagine having lived without it.
Something similar happened with respect to the world of books, social debates, historical dilemmas, appreciation of visual arts, and many other areas. Because Grinnell was so isolated (“in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by cornfields”) the college tried hard to import exciting speakers and artists. Attending lectures on fascinating topics was free and easy: all one had to do was show up and listen. I found out I cared about ideas and history and art to a degree I had not known was possible.
The kid who left Grinnell four years later was very little like the kid who showed up in 1960. I’m convinced that all of us change, and in fact we change every year we are alive. But some changes are vastly more significant than others, and my Grinnell years were that.
What about you? If you attended college, what did the experience mean to you?