A lovely scene of tranquility.
The mall of Southern University is a large square enclosed by formidable brick buildings. In the center stands a dignified oak tree, its branches creating a small, shady oasis surrounded by short-clipped grass and crisscrossing footpaths. One long cement path connects the library on the north end to the theater on the south. Others connect the art center, the cafeteria, and various classroom and office buildings. In the southwestern corner, our bell tower, an imposing steel structure, shoots 200 feet into the air. There is space and peace and serenity here, all elements that, for me, at least, define a college campus. One feels cut off from the pressures of the workaday world and is encouraged to look inwardly, to think about society, culture, the cosmos – and one’s place in them.
A cool October breeze lifts the corners of the handmade vote-for-me Homecoming banners erected here and there around the mall; they flap soundlessly, throwing snippets of phrases (KING! VOTE! YOUR! STUDENT!) toward the passing eye. The air is filled, incongruously, with the sounds of maintenance– a groundskeeper running his leaf-blower along the planter at the base of the bell tower, a bandsaw whirring in the distance. Meanwhile, seemingly oblivious to it all, students walk singly or in small groups (no more than two or three per group) to their various destinations – classes, the library, their dorm rooms, the coffee shop. Each seems to be in a trance, but I know their minds are simply elsewhere, engaged in some private meditation, perhaps having to do with mathematics, or psychology, or business, or some other knotted problem. It’s all right; they’ll make it.
This is what I love about a college campus – its meditative air, its unhurried pace, its solidity, its permanence, its devotion to something that the working world just doesn’t care about, and that is the furtherance of one’s self. More particularly, one’s mind. This inevitably, filters into one’s soul. Without being selfish, you do what you can for yourself in college, not the guy who’s signing your paycheck. You get to choose, you get to do the work, you pass or fail according to your own effort. It’s all about the individual. You.
When I was a kid, I did poorly in school. I was not encouraged to succeed, my peers were jerks, and I failed to push myself to work harder, do better. I didn’t have the tools to do well and I did not even have the slightest idea how to go about trying to get them. I couldn’t wait to get out of school. Today, I realize that I’m all about school – the struggle to learn, to stay ahead, the hard work that goes into every course, and the lifestyle of the college student. I see myself out there, sporting a backpack and earbuds, trudging diligently, religiously, faithfully to class, my mind chewing over some problem that has nothing to do with another man’s profit or loss. Just today, as I was walking one of those paved footpaths, I passed a student – a total stranger – on her way to class. She said, “Good morning,” as if we knew each other, and I replied with equal warmth and vigor. Maybe she was in the same place I was, and not just in the physical sense. It’s a state of mind.