Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Grinnell Experience

I'm giddy with excitement to be returning this weekend to a place that had a more profound effect on me in four years than any other place or period in my life.

Grinnell College. That liberal, hippy, gay-loving school in The Middle Of Nowhere, Iowa.

Only a few close friends know my wishes when I leave this Earth. I want to be cremated, and have my ashes spread in four locations. One of those is the Grinnell College campus.

A common term used at the college, back in my day, was "The Grinnell Experience."

It was a catchy little phrase that was probably thought up by some marketing major from Coe College turned "communications director," but for some damn reason, the phrase actually made sense.

Grinnell College alums have a special bond with one another, no matter when they attended the school. There's an understanding. "Oh, you also were fortunate enough to enjoy one of Iowa's best kept secrets?" Maybe not a best kept secret to nerds and geeks, but to the world-at-large, it was quite invisible.

I knew this because when my high school classmates asked me where I was going to college, I'd tell them, and they'd say "Oh, Cornell?"

It became much easier to just nod, and say, "Sure!"

So how did Grinnell shape who I am, so definitively in just four short years? 

Well there's the obvious. I met the mother of my amazing children there. And I'm fortunate enough that my parents met the love of their life, and parent of their amazing child (I'll let you guess which one of the three of us that is), at Grinnell. So pretty much my mere existence is a result of Grinnell.

And frankly, next to family, I have nobody in my life that understands me better than the group of close friends I made while I attended Grinnell. We don't all see each other as often as we'd like to, but when we do, we always pick up right where we left off. Just like the days when we were hosting keggers on the roof of Cowles, complete with our mini-golf course, hot tub, and water balloon cannon. Those guys are the closest things to brothers I've ever had, next to my actual brothers.
Oh, and that brings me to one of the other amazing things that shaped me while at Grinnell: I never let my classes get in the way of my education. Yet somehow I still made it through. Sometimes, an all-nighter drinking Milwaukee's Best Light and playing SuperNintendo with your "brothers" can teach you more than an all-nighter of studying Constitutional Law and Politics (with apologies to Professor Ira Strauber).

And there's no question that Grinnell shaped me politically. But not the way most people would think. They assume "liberal arts" is code for teaching us to be commies who love to play hacky sack and protest everything. 

But for those of you who haven't been around me consistently the last 20 years, you'd probably be shocked to know that when I graduated from Grinnell, I was still a registered Republican. In fact I worked on a Republican Gubernatorial campaign more than two years after I left Grinnell.

The most common misconception about the school is that it just turns out liberals, and is an institution devoted to brainwashing their students with an agenda toward all things leftist. Au Contraire.

Grinnellians by and large are outspoken. And not shy about sharing their opinions. But it's not because of any leftist agenda. It's because our professors wanted us to leave school and be able to 1) think critically, and make informed decisions, not just following the crowd; 2) communicate effectively. Because no matter how smart you might think you are, if you can't find a way to articulate that with others, you'll never get anywhere in life; and 3) communicate in both directions. Listening, learning, and processing information from people you disagree with isn't a bad thing. It's educational. You might even find some common ground.

And finally, I have to say, another important thing I learned in my four years at Grinnell: How to tap a keg.

I look forward to returning to my roots. My old stomping grounds. The place where I went from being a boy to a slightly older boy. And the place where I perfected the art of face planting into a comfy spot on Mac Field at 2 a.m., and yelling out for help until my friends would somehow find me each time.

The Grinnell Experience means a lot of things to a lot of people. But for me, it means four of the best years of my life. Even if I don't remember every moment.

See you Friday, Grinnell. And if you hear someone yelling for help on Mac Field, please direct me to my dorm room, and make sure to leave the garbage can near my bed.

7 comments:

Frank said...

Well said, Steve. Esp the point about "communicate in both directions." When I left Grinnell, I thought Churchill was on to something when he said, "a person who is 18 and not a liberal has no heart. A person who is 30 and not a conservative has no brains."

Unfortunately, in this age of wingnut blogs and thoughtless exchanges underneath "newspaper" stories, it is clear that both heart and brains are woefully in short supply. Thank God for that crazy place we'll be this weekend, where there will be no shortage of heart or brains, nor any trend in the amount of either across the ages of those in attendance! I'll be looking for you with your wheelchair, sir.

Miclaundry said...

Looking forward to Grinnell, too, and to finally actually for realsies meeting you. It's funny, y'know, what you say about not letting classes get in the way of your education-- I was the same way. I went through an amazing transformation that prepared me for many of the biggest challenges I have faced... It was FIVE years for me, because I took a semester off and bailed out in the middle of another one-- and I didn't even end up with a degree! But I sure got one hell of an education about how to interact, how to communicate, how to think critically. And yes, how to tap a keg.

Anonymous said...

Love the blog entry! It echoes my feelings on Grinnell very well! I wish I could make it to reunion this weekend, just could not swing it this year.

A couple comments:
1) Grinnell would never hire a communications director from Coe, right? Sabotage waiting to happen.

2) I have now replaced my keg tapping skills with wine uncorking but still have fond memories of all the (primarily North) campus dorm parties! I left Grinnell WAY too good at every drinking game possible but still managed to come away with a fantastic education.

Have a greate time at reunion, say hey to the place for those of us who can only be there in spirit.

Terra

Anonymous said...

Love the blog entry! It echoes my feelings on Grinnell very well! I wish I could make it to reunion this weekend, just could not swing it this year.

A couple comments:
1) Grinnell would never hire a communications director from Coe, right? Sabotage waiting to happen.

2) I have now replaced my keg tapping skills with wine uncorking but still have fond memories of all the (primarily North) campus dorm parties! I left Grinnell WAY too good at every drinking game possible but still managed to come away with a fantastic education.

Have a greate time at reunion, say hey to the place for those of us who can only be there in spirit.

Terra

Life Under Construction said...

Frank - I think that's why I'm so excited for this weekend. Rarely do you find a place where the people have hearts and brains together!

Looking forward to finally meeting you to, Mr. Andrade! :)

Terra, I'll do my best to say hello to Grinnell for you, I promise!

Vikki said...

I never learned how to tap a keg. Shocking given how often I was around one. If you see me and have an untapped keg, teach me!

J. Otto Pohl said...

I hope you had a good time. If I ever get back to the US maybe I will attend a reunion.