College...Take 2

Crouse, home of the College of Visual and Perfoming Arts (VPA) at Syracuse Unversity  (courtesy of syr.edu)

I've been traveling extensively over the last year, and I have been plopped into various situations only to find out that the experience was there for me to learn as well as for me to teach (see the What's an "Arty Hobo" Anyway post).  Now my wandering ways have landed me in Syracuse, a moderate city in upstate New York, and the home of my alma mater, Syracuse University.  When I was "called" to come to Syracuse, I knew I would be here "indefinitely," which I didn't understand at first, but slowly, like my other adventures, a picture is starting to emerge.

Since graduating in the 90's, the longest I've been in Syracuse was for two months, and that was when I was working on a script for a story that takes place in Syracuse.  Suffice to say, I was in the scriptwriters' bubble and did nothing outside of focusing on the task at hand.  Before then, I would do what most alumni do, visit for three or four days, talk to some students, catch up with my old professor(s), meet the Dean, walk the campus, recall fond memories and marvel about how things change.  I would then hop on a plane and head back home not really soaking in any of the new experiences the university had to offer today.

Well, this time it's different.  Well heck, my life is different, I'm different, so yeah, everything's different.  This time, I am like a student but in a more engaged way, without any of the pressure.  What's funny is that many people are shocked that I am not a student (this has been going on since I graduated).  They think I'm a graduate student (which is up from being mistaken for undergrad a few years ago).   I do, however, talk to students and the faculty and it seems that since I am an alumnus who has come back for more than a few days, people treat me like a wise escapee returning with secrets and knowledge of the outside world, out there where the students and sometimes the faculty hope to be someday.

As much as I thought, in the past, that SU had changed, the more I now see that the overall college experience, and the students have really stayed the same.   Yeah there is the cosmetic factor, everything new looks like a cross between Starbucks and the Apple Store and, of course, the technology.  When I attended SU the internet took 20 minutes to load on a desk top computer, and no one had a cell phones or a laptop computer.  Now, the university campus is totally WiFi capable and socially connected through Facebook and Twitter, just about every student has a cell phone and many sport a laptop computer.  But the college experience is still steeped in being separate from the rest of society,  a bubble or prison of theoretical associations, academic elitism and naiveté.   However, there is a wealth of knowledge to be hold if you've actually been out in the world and come back with questions, like me.   Now don't get me wrong, college is a great foundation for most people (I am thankful everyday I went through the very tactical VPA film program), but the classroom can not teach you what experience can, and it is only through the experience that the real questions start to emerge.  I'm starting to wonder if it is better to go into the world first, then go to college when you have gathered enough questions about your field of interest and beyond.  What's great is that the chancellor, Nancy Cantor, seems to see this clearly as she has worked over the last seven years on bridging the gap between the school and the city, which is actually the bridge between the real world and academia, much to the chagrin of some academic elitists.

Now, I am not taking any classes, no, instead, I am going to FREE lectures and seminars, the same ones I skipped, didn't know anything about or fell asleep on when I was a student.  It is only after spending sometime in the world that I now see the merits of these events on a different level and can add to the conversation because of it, something that students just don't have yet.  In fact, many of these events have low to moderate student turnout and are mostly made up of students within the field of the discussion even though it could benefit students in other majors.   These students most likely can't recognize this because they lack the experience, and the faculty can't help because they lack the perspective.  So it is up to alumni, like me and some of you, to return to campus, participate in an engaging way and bring these issues to light, so that the transition from academics to the world can be made easier.

For those of us with experience beyond academia, these lectures and seminars are a great source of information and inspiration and have opened up, formerly unseen, possibilities in my life (more about that later).   So, if you are an alumnus of a university or you are in close proximity to a college (a lot of these events are open to the public).  Go to the university's website and check out their event calendar, you never know what hidden gems await you.

©Copyright 2011 by Xelinda Yancy aka The Arty Hobo.  All rights reserved.
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