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Archive for the ‘Georgetown’ Category

. . . is where I am, after the 500-mile drive from Georgetown earlier today.  Everything was fine while we were gone, and I’ve already washed a load of laundry and cooked two pounds of bacon.

But I’ll back up just a bit to this morning, when we arrived on campus to attend the All Class Farewell Mass, which is always held in Gaston Hall.

Gaston Hall IS Georgetown to me.  It’s an ornate room that continues to impress me as much as it did the first time I saw it in 1985.  When I’m there, I think of all the other times I was there–for six (I think) Reunion masses now, but also for at least one Mass of the Holy Spirit, for Cherry Tree Massacre, for hypnotist Tom DeLuca, for the mandatory viewing of The Exorcist during Freshman Orientation, and more formal occasions that I no longer recall.  But it’s also always new to me, because it so richly detailed that I discover more every time I visit.

From the motto of the Jesuits emblazoned behind the stage to the many sayings of famous wise men that adorn the walls to the seals of all the Jesuit Universities from across the world, it’s a feast for the eyes and the mind.  It is a joy to be in the room, and more of a joy to attend Mass there, especially with John, who was not Catholic when he attended Georgetown and certainly attributes his openness to becoming one to his experience of the Jesuits.

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The Eucharist is the source and the summit of all that we do as Catholics, and the Reunion Mass is the summit of the weekend for me.  I worry sometimes at the naysayers who proclaim Georgetown is not “Catholic enough,” until I come back and see and feel how very Catholic it is.  Father Kevin O’Brien (a classmate of John’s), who had earlier given the lecture on the Church in the 21st century, was the celebrant, and a few other Jesuits joined in, among them Father Bill McFadden, who was my first theology professor and of whom I was absolutely terrified.  Jack DeGioia, the first lay President of the university, gave a reflection after Communion.

President DeGioia recalled a Gospel of a few weeks prior and reminded us that we are to be living stones, building a spiritual house, out in the world.  He said he wished that the most recent graduates could be with us so that they could see the profound impact their Georgetown experience will have on their futures.  When Father O’Brien dismissed us, reminding us that the word “Mass” derives from the Latin for sending forth, we were filled with the sense of mission that Georgetown attempts to inspire in its students.

We enjoyed a very nice brunch afterwards under the tent on Copley Lawn, and after a last-minute bathroom break to prepare for the long drive home, we spent our last few moments sitting right outside one of the doors to the Healy Building.  The year I graduated–Georgetown’s Bicentennial Year–a mosaic of the University Seal was installed in front of this door.  Apparently it has become a Georgetown tradition not to step on the seal, and you could tell the students and more recent (than me!) alums by whether they skirted the seal or walked across it.  It was sweet to hear one young guy explaining to his preschooler that “we never, ever step on it.”

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And then it was time to start for home . . . grateful for the weekend, and even more grateful for our Georgetown years.

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So, no, we didn’t make it back to campus at 10 a.m.  And John wasn’t ready to leave and I was chomping at the bit.  So  left him at the hotel and walked to Georgetown by myself.

It’s about a mile to campus from the hotel in Rosslyn, Virginia where we are staying.  It involves crossing the Key Bridge, and that’s a trip I’ve made hundreds of times.  There’s no Metro stop in Georgetown, so any time we wanted to go somewhere by subway we walked to Rosslyn.  We also used to walk over occasionally to visit the McDonald’s, since there wasn’t one (still isn’t) in Georgetown.  But the majority of my bridge-crossing took place starting in the summer of 1988, for two reasons:  I had a job as a waitress at the Key Bridge Marriott, and John had graduated and moved into an apartment on the other side of the bridge.

So it was a nostalgic little journey for me this morning, and made even better by the extraordinary weather we are having.  Y’all, usually it’s in the 90s already by now and the humidity makes you remember that D.C. is built over a swamp.  But it was in the 70s today and breezy.  Good thing, too, because while walking across the bridge is easy, walking up the hill to Georgetown from there is a bit harder, and the first thing I did was stop at Wisemiller’s to get a bottle of water.

You know what I did then?  Absolutely nothing.  I planted myself on a bench in front of Copley (the last dorm I lived in) and sat for an hour soaking up the atmosphere and watching people walk by.

Copley Hall

Copley Hall

I talked to my roommate (who did not attend the Reunion) later in the day and she asked how it felt to be back and my answer was, “Not all that different.”  I think that’s one of the things I love about coming back–it’s exciting to be there but also familiar.  It’s a place I know and feel comfortable with, even though there are always some changes and some new things to see.  And of course it does take me back to that time and those memories, but I’m still the same person after all.  Right?

I did visit the bookstore to buy a t-shirt and pick up some snacks before John joined me, and then we went to another lecture.  This one was on The Church in the 21st Century, and was mostly about Pope Francis, which was great because you’ve probably gathered by now that I absolutely love Pope Francis.  Then we walked around and explored.  We went inside the oldest building–1792–on campus, which I think was used for storage in our day but is now a meditation center.  We also went into the Copley Crypt Chapel which for some reason I had never been inside.  And we visited the awesome new performing arts center which has two theatres and classrooms and offices and is a pretty amazing addition to campus.

Icon in Copley Crypt

Icon in Copley Crypt

Copley Crypt Detal

Copley Crypt Detal

Copley Crypt Detail

Copley Crypt Detail

The next event was called Love on the Hilltop and it was a reception at the Alumni House held in honor of those of us who met our spouses at Georgetown.  They even gave us champagne and chocolate-covered strawberries.  Isn’t that romantic?

And then we met up with my dear friend Tom.  Tom lived on the first floor of New North freshman year when I lived on the fourth floor.  He and Renee (my roommate) and I dyed Easter eggs on the fire escape.  We danced to Madonna’s Get into the Groove as part of a pre-exam ritual.  We cooked many a stir fry supper.  Tom and I spent a summer making beds together as employees of summer housing.  We have lots of memories and it was wonderful to see him.

John and I had dinner at The Tombs.  It’s a Georgetown tradition, but one that I didn’t take up until after a graduated, because I was kind of a nerd in college honestly.  So we’ve gone there almost every Reunion.  Do you know that restaurants up here are much more crowded and noisy than the ones back home?  I wonder why that is.

We meandered back towards the garage where we left our car last night, stopping for about an hour just to sit and talk and BE here.  And also to make that aforementioned call to the roommate and to tell her she MUST come to the next Reunion.  Now we are back in our hotel room for an evening of reading, quiet, coolness, and rest.  Tomorrow is the farewell Mass and brunch and then it’s back to Tennessee.

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If y’all don’t understand the title, it’s the first line of Georgetown’s fight song, which is the best fight song ever.  Seriously, it is.  One of my college housemates once went to some kind of Catholic Youth conference where everyone sang their school’s fight song, and everyone there agreed it was the best.  You can hear it here.

Why does that matter exactly?  Because as I write I am concluding the first day of my 25th Reunion.  I wrote about John’s last year–lucky us, we get to go two years in a row!  So at the moment I’m on the 14th floor of the Hyatt in Rosslyn, which is right across the Key Bridge from Georgetown, while my kids are back in Knoxville doing God knows what. (No, I’m kidding, I did make various arrangements for their care and feeding before I left.)

Words cannot express (won’t stop me writing lots and lots of words!) how much I love Georgetown.  Maybe everyone feels the same way about their Alma Mater, I don’t know.  But I just start grinning goofily the minute the place comes into view (a little different from the way I just about burst into tears when it came into view in August 1985 when my family was getting ready to drop me off there!).

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We fought through the 5 o’clock traffic (and if you live in Knoxville and think you know anything about traffic, you just don’t!) yesterday to arrive around six, with just enough time to freshen up and get back into the car to fight traffic some more to go have some wine at my friend Crystal’s house.  Crystal was one of my housemates sophomore year, which was when John and I started dating, so she was a witness to all of the drama and lovesickness of those early days.  We had a super time seeing her house and then eating dinner at a wonderful neighborhood restaurant and reminiscing as well as talking about politics.  Crystal actually talks about politics on CNN!  She has a blog called Conservative Black Chick and I’m more of a moderate-to-liberal white chick, but we get along all the same. 🙂 (By the way, if we ever talked about politics ONCE the year we lived together, I certainly don’t remember it.  We were too busy watching Moonlighting and drinking.)

We slept in this morning and got to Georgetown a little after one.  After we registered for the events we plan to attend (not many of them, because $150 EACH is more than I care to spend on anything that doesn’t last longer than one night, and that’s how much the big evening party costs) we headed for the first lecture, which was a panel on the History of Georgetown, which I won’t bore you with except did you know that Georgetown is the first Catholic university in the United States and that it was founded the same year the Constitution was written and that it was chartered by Congress?  We heard all about that and more, and then it was time for the second lecture.  This one was called The Problem of God, which is a course that is required for Georgetown Freshmen, and it made us feel so smart to listen to all this deep philosophical/theological stuff.  We went to school here and learned about all these things once.  We must have been pretty smart.  But raising teenagers will make the smartest person feel like an idiot, believe me.

After the lectures and a trip to see the newly renovated Dahlgren Chapel, we found a bench on the lawn in front of the Healy Building and just sat for a good hour, soaking up the atmosphere of the place where we were young.  So far, besides Crystal, I haven’t seen except in passing anyone that I knew from school.  I haven’t kept up with a lot of people, and most of those I have for one reason or another aren’t making the trip this time.  But it’s really enough just to have a Reunion with Georgetown itself.  Just being here does something for us, reminds us of what we were 25 years ago and what we still are underneath.

Dahlgren Chapel Window

Dahlgren Chapel Window

View of the Healy Building from Dahlgren

View of the Healy Building from Dahlgren

Finally we got up and walked to Wisconsin Avenue, to take a look around and get a bite to eat.  We went to Martin’s Tavern, an old favorite of John’s and one thing in Georgetown that is older than we are–it’s been here since 1933!  Then we walked all the way back to our hotel–just a beautiful walk with the sun setting over the Potomac and so many interesting things  to see in every direction.

My classmates are partying under a tent on campus, and I’ve chosen a quiet evening in the hotel, blogging.  That’s a real treat for me though!  We are supposed to be back on campus tomorrow at 10 a.m.  I will let you know if we make it!

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Twenty-seven years ago (ACK!!), I moved into my first apartment at Georgetown with three classmates.  It was like playing house–walking to Safeway to buy groceries, making Quick Corn Light Bread from my mother’s recipe, using the carpet sweeper, fighting over whose turn it was to buy toilet paper, throwing dinner parties.  We had so much fun.  And of course it seems like it all happened yesterday.

But here’s what ACTUALLY happened yesterday: yesterday morning, I received a Facebook message from one of my former housemates.  She was coming to Knoxville to speak at the University and wondered if I’d have time to get together.

Sometimes spontaneous fun is the best kind.  We didn’t have much time to plan, but we made it happen.  John and I went to her event, and then we went out to eat and drink and reminisce.

I had not seen Crystal in almost twenty years, when she met us at a friend’s home in Northern Virginia for a couple of hours.  My last visual memory was of her sitting on the sofa with my two kids crawling all over her.  And honestly I was a little nervous about seeing her again.  Because you can never be sure what it will be like to be with someone you haven’t known in so long.  And I was also nervous about attending her speech. 

You see, Crystal Wright is kind of famous!  She writes a popular blog, she makes regular appearances on television, and she has over 36,000 Twitter followers!   She was at UT to talk to the Issues Committee about race and the Republican party, and especially about her own experiences of being a Conservative black woman.

Now y’all have figured out by now that I’m not a Republican, right?  I’ve read some of Crystal’s tweets and I’ve disagreed with a lot of what I read.  Crystal was always a person of strong opinions. but we just didn’t do a whole lot of talking about politics in Village B 88 back in the day.  We were too busy watching Moonlighting, doing aerobics to the Jane Fonda cassette, and licking spilled champagne off the kitchen counter because who would want it to go to waste?

So I’d been a little surprised by Crystal’s vehement views and wondered if our differences would affect our friendship.

I shouldn’t have worried.  I actually enjoyed listening to the talk, especially when the kids asked questions afterwards.  (Crystal told us at dinner that she was very impressed by the intelligence of the UT students she met!)  She talked a lot about the failure of the GOP to engage minorities and what they should do to change that.  She explained the genesis of her own political beliefs.  She gave me some new ideas to think about.

We started talking while we waited for John to retrieve the car from where we’d illegally parked it and never stopped.  There was no awkwardness as we talked not just about old times but about politics and principles and what our lives are like now.  Memory is funny–there were things I remembered clearly that she had forgotten and vice-versa.  We were housemates during a pivotal year–it was the year I started dating my husband and as Crystal said last night “There was a lot of drama.”   

Crystal lives in D.C. and when we go there in May for the Georgetown Reunion we are going to go hang out on her deck and drink wine and talk some more.  Maybe I will bring a bottle of peach Riunite so we can relive one of our college adventures.

I wanted to share a picture of us back in the day but y’all know what happened to my pictures.  This one is the clearest one I have–Crystal is on top, with me at the bottom and Renee in between.  Christine, the fourth housemate, must have been taking the picture!  But as I look at the photograph of one happy moment in time, with rainbow swirls and smudges around the edges, imperfections and distortions, I realize the fire turned the picture into a metaphor.

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We had a big morning planned (two lectures and a tour) but we kind of forgot about it and slept in instead.  We had to take a cab to make it to Georgetown in time for the Family Picnic (which we would totally have bagged too except we had already paid for it).  The food was good, though.  We chilled (Or tried to chill.  It’s in the freaking 90s here and the humidity is around 85%.  I mean it is brutal.)  for awhile until time for this afternoon’s panel discussion: Cementing a Legacy:  Analyzing a Second Term President (do we Georgetown grads know how to party of what?).

This thing was held in the brand-new business school building which is all stone and old-fashioned looking on the outside and all glassy and modern inside, and the reason they were holding the discussion in the fancy building was because C-Span was filming it!  And you know, it was really an interesting panel but I woke up with a headache and the medicine I take for that knocks me out completely.  It just does.  So if you watch C-Span don’t think that sleepy woman in the audience isn’t FULLY CAPABLE of following the nuances of the conversation.  She’s just on drugs, okay?

One of the graduates in the audience asking a question was just completely obnoxious.  He made me remember that I went to school with a fair amount of obnoxious people back in the day.  How shall I put this delicately?  Let’s just say, there are not many folks of the Southern persuasion here.  And I am back to being used to my polite and friendly fellow Southerners, after twenty-five years away from this place.

And have I mentioned the heat?  Yes, it does get hot at home.  But it cools off at night.  And there’s less asphalt and concrete.  Or something.  We are walking along like we are REALLY old, just not kind of old.  I’m telling you, it is sapping all of our energy.  We’re longing for our hotel room at about eight, and when we were here in school we didn’t even START partying until after that.  Things are later here.  That’s something I forgot.  You can walk into a restaurant at seven and get a seat, no problem.  It’s at eight that things are busy.  That’s backward from Knoxville.

But different is good, right?  So after the panel we went for another walk, this time down Wisconsin Avenue.  Most things we remember are gone, but my favorite ice cream place–Thomas Sweets–is still there!  Then we retrieved our car from the parking garage where we left it over night at less than half the price our hotel wants–take THAT, Melrose Hotel! and went driving into Virginia to visit some of our old haunts there, including a favorite restaurant from the year we lived here after we were married.  Then we took the car back to Georgetown and took another little walk around campus–short walks are much more manageable in the heat.

We ended up in the library.  This is a place where I spent a LOT of time, folks.  Not because I was studying.  I never once went there to study.  I worked there, though, at the circulation desk, for 12-15 hours every week for four years.  It’s so fancy-schmancy that I don’t even recognize it now, but the reading room next door is EXACTLY the same.  I think even the furniture is the same–it sure looks like it.  And the books that line the walls–books I’m pretty sure no one even opens any more–are encyclopedias.  Encyclopedias about everything–art, music, history.  Also the Oxford English Dictionary.  And all kinds of guides to periodical literature.  The kids probably sit there and laugh while they look all that up on their iPhones.  But I’m glad they haven’t thrown away the books yet.

We took a cab back to the hotel and now we are trying to work up the energy to go back downstairs and take a hike to the White House–seven whole blocks away.  Will we make it?  Find out tomorrow . . .

From the wall of the Intercultural Building, where the School of Foreign Service is housed

From the wall of the Intercultural Building, where the School of Foreign Service is housed

EDIT: Tomorrow never came apparently, because for some reason I never wrote THE REST OF THE STORY.  We did, however, go out that evening for a little walk and stared at the White House, and got ourselves a snack at Old Ebbitt Grill, which is one of those old places where the movers and shakers eat.

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Georgetown's founder Bishop John Carroll in front of the Healy Buiding.

Georgetown’s founder Bishop John Carroll in front of the Healy Buiding.

So this is where I am today!

Twenty-five years ago (yes, that does constitute an actual lifetime!) John graduated from Georgetown University, and we are here for his Reunion.  (He’s older than me.  We just won’t discuss when my 25-year Reunion will be.  Until I blog about it next May.)

This is the final installment of the two months of travel, celebration, fun, and stress that I wrote about two months ago.  (Did you notice I kind of stopped blogging for the duration?) But this is by far the less stressful occasion, and do you know why?  We are here BY OURSELVES.  Yes, we took advantage of the fact that three of our kids are adults, at least technically, and abandoned the little ones to their care.  So here we are, just like the old days.

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Except we are older and fatter.

We aren’t staying on campus this time because it now costs–I kid you not–$180 a night to stay in a DORM ROOM and after all the time I spent cleaning Village C (a whole summer scrubbing toilets and making beds) they ought to be paying ME to stay there.  So I scored us a four star hotel on Hotwire for a two star price because we are GROWNUPS.  It’s a mile and a half away and we are busily coming up with ways to avoid paying $45 (yes you read that right) a NIGHT to park at the hotel, so we left the car at Georgetown last night and walked back, which was not so bad if it weren’t for my uncomfortable shoes and the 90 degree heat.  I used to routinely walk from Georgetown to the Mall and the monuments and the Smithsonians, and sometimes did round trips of ten miles, so I can handle this, right?

As grownups, we decided to go to the grownup restaurant last night too.  While all John’s classmates were attending a raucous celebration in the Tombs, we stayed upstairs at 1789, where we had never been.  It was awesome enough to make up for being older, fatter, and greyer, seriously.  It’s dim and old world and all the waiters have French accents which they are not faking.  Every item was exquisite, from the amuse bouche to the coffee. (Fair Trade, French press) Maybe by next year we will have saved up enough money to go there again.

On the agenda for today were lectures and receptions on campus.  Because this is Georgetown the lectures have names like “The State of Security: Balancing Foreign Relations with Domestic Concerns” and the receptions have free wine and beer and actual food enough to make a meal of (as some enterprising students have been known to do, since no one is checking your i.d. at these things).  We had three lectures planned but we slept in and then ate lunch at Mr. Smith’s instead.  And we did go to one of them.  It was held in one of the few big lecture halls at Georgetown (because most classes are small, y’all!).  This happens to have been where I took “Physics of Energy and the Environment” along with all the members of the basketball team and many other non-scientists.  Today’s lecture was much more inspiring, I promise.

Tonight we should have been at a tent party.  Except $100 PER PERSON is a lot to pay to party under a tent in 90 degree weather.  I can get drunk for a LOT less than that, should I want to.  I didn’t like tent parties when I was 21 and my opinion hasn’t changed.  It probably doesn’t help that the last one I attended as an undergrad ended with me vomiting in the grass and then returning to the apartment and passing out.  So we went down to M Street, had dinner, and walked back to the hotel where we will soon be passing out from heat exhaustion instead of drunkenness.

To Be Continued . . .

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“A liberal education is at the heart of a civil society, and at the heart of a liberal education is the act of teaching.”

~ A. Bartlett Giamatti 

I am a BIG believer in Liberal Arts education.   I majored in English at Georgetown University, and rather obviously I did not choose that major with the thought of future employment in mind!  Later I was a Graduate Assistant at what was then the College of Liberal Arts at the University of Tennessee, and I grew very frustrated by kids who just wanted to know how to graduate as fast as possible with their only goal a job waiting at the end, kids who just couldn’t get the point of having to take English or Philosophy classes because that wouldn’t help them make money.  Me, I’ve always thought of KNOWLEDGE as the pot of gold at the end of that college rainbow.

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And in my opinion, a good college or university shouldn’t just offer a smorgasbord of classes for kids to dive into without direction.  Perhaps they will gorge themselves on their favorites, while ignoring delicacies that they might fall in love with if they had to taste them.  No, a good school will guide its students and help form their minds.

So I was astonished and disappointed to discover that this very important role of a good school has been abandoned by some of the most prestigious institutions of higher learning in this country.  Although student guides at Harvard, Yale, and Princeton gave lip service to the ideal of breadth as well of depth in education, they also said things like: “We don’t want anyone having to take classes they don’t want to,” “We don’t have a lot of core requirements like other schools,” “You might not be taking any of the same classes as the other freshmen.”

What these schools espouse is the concept of core AREAS, and I won’t go into the details of each curriculum except to say they are similar at the Big Three.  Every student has to take one course from each of the areas.  Given the only four courses per semester a Harvard student takes, that means the average student spends a year on these courses.  The areas are so broad that at Princeton, for example, a Pottery course comes from the same area as a Literature course, so that you might graduate from what is supposed to be one of the best schools in the country without ever taking a college-level English class.

Many of the offerings the kids mentioned sounded fascinating as electives, but inappropriate as core courses:  Medieval Navigation as a science course, for example.  (I believe that was at Harvard).  My son thinks it’s great to be able to take whatever you want, and I’m sure most eighteen-year-olds feel the same.  After twelve years of being told exactly what classes to take and when, such freedom is intoxicating.

But most freshmen in college don’t have a clue about what classes they should take.  How could they?  How many of them have ever taken a class in Philosophy or Theology?  How would they know whether they would enjoy these classes?  How many of them equate boring experiences in a class in high school with the same subject in college which may be very different?  A good college should be making sure that its students are exposed to all these subjects so that they can make an educated decision about what they pursue on an upperclass level.  A good college should be trying to turn out well-rounded kids who DO take some of the same classes as their peers, both for collegiality and in the interest of turning out adults who share a common foundation of knowledge.

I am happy to report that Jesuit institutions apparently still value the concept of a core curriculum.  Although Georgetown’s curriculum has loosened up a bit since I attended there, apparently in the interests of multi-culturalism, students there will still find themselves taking core classes for two full years, and many of them are specific classes that everyone will take.  English, Philosophy, Theology, History, Science, Math, Languages, and Social Sciences are all covered.  Additionally, Georgetown still has what we called the Sophomore Rule, stating that you cannot take two classes in the same discipline in the same semester until your junior year, a clever way of preventing people from trying to get a jump start on a major at the expense of exploration.

I had two friends in college who switched from Foreign Service to English majors because of their experience in their required English courses.  After my required Theology courses, I chose to minor in Theology.   Because I took the Liberal Arts Seminar my freshman year I got out of a lot of the required classes (although not the subjects) and as much as I enjoyed the Seminar I have always been a little regretful that I did not share the experiences of the majority of my classmates and that I did not get the same basic grounding that they did.

“It is not so very important for a person to learn facts. For that he does not really need a college. He can learn them from books. The value of an education in a liberal arts college is not the learning of many facts but the training of the mind to think something that cannot be learned from textbooks.”

~Albert Einstein (a Princeton Professor, by the way, 1921, on Thomas Edison’s opinion that a college education is useless; quoted in Frank, Einstein: His Life and Times, p. 185.)

What do you think?  Am I over-reacting?  Did any of you end up liking a subject you never would have explored if you hadn’t had to?  Talk to me in the comments!

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