Tuesday, December 2, 2008

St. Francis Xavier Homecoming

I never intended to go to homecoming. Years ago I decided that the only people who went were the terribly successful who wanted to show off, or locals looking for an excuse to party. Falling into neither category, I gave no thoughts to homecoming. So it came as a surprise when I found myself thinking about St. F. X. U. and the people I met during my time there. I booked a flight and hotel.

Antigonish is a pleasant town and the university is its jewel. I finished my degree there and stayed on to work for some years after. That gave me an opportunity to get to know a lot of students during my time there. When I left to go back to school, I gave no thought to returning. I figured I might return one day, but had no real plans.

Although I passed through the town some few years later, it was a quick visit, pausing only long enough to stop at a couple of my favorite shops before continuing on. There were a few changes, but those were expected. I returned once more in 2004 when I worked on a project in a nearby town. I decided to take a short drive back to visit my alma mater. It had changed. The trees that once lined the drive leading into the old campus were lost to the ravages of Dutch elm disease. In fact, all the magnificent elms in the town were gone. The athletic facility, where I spent most my time had been expanded, wiping out one of the playing fields. There were parking lots where once were playing fields. New buildings were plopped down were they shouldn't have been. I was devastated at the changes. After driving around the campus, I left.

Arriving at the registration desk, I quickly checked the lists to see who I might meet. I recognized many of the names. As my memory reeled back, I noted that many names were missing. Why were they not here? It didn't occur to me that they might posses the same philosophy I recently held.

I started recognizing people. Some were staff who had stayed on all these years, some were former classmates who barely changed, some were former students (many of whom changed a lot), and some were former employees. My class had a breakfast on Saturday morning so I was able to meet up with several familiar faces. So many were immediately recognizable but a few I knew not at all.

I did my best to avoid the typical questions one would expect at a reunion. Instead I asked such questions as “What one thing do you wish you had done while a student?” and “What was your biggest mistake?” I would have thought that they, like me, would have been in a very reflective mood, but the questions caught most of them unprepared. I was surprised by some of the answers.

Many responses were to do with career choice. Few of the people I met were working in their field of study. Some responses were to do with relationships and social life. Some wished they’d studied harder, some wished they’d not spent so much time buried in books. Generally though, people were happy with how things turned out.

I couldn’t help but wonder about the people who were not in attendance. Where was my old pal, Gary? Where were the guys from my residence, Mike, Jim, Harry, Donald and the rest? I had mixed feelings about the fact that none of my old loves were in attendance. They are so sweet in my memory; my psyche might not be able to deal with fact that they would have changed so much over the years.

The football game was, of course, the center of attention for the alums. Although I had a ticket, I could not possibly sit down for a football game and was compelled to return to the sidelines to photograph the event. It’s the only way I’ve ever seen a football game and can’t imagine any other way.

The stands were full to see the X-men go up against a higher ranked Huskies. At the end of the first half, our team was humiliating the other side. Unfortunately, due to some fumbles and bad plays, we humiliated ourselves in the second half and lost the game.
I managed to sneak off to watch the rugby matches. I couldn’t help get excited, wanting to don my gear and run out on the pitch to join in the fray. I can’t watch a game without imagining myself playing.

I recognized more people after the game. She was in my residence. I taught him. That guy worked for me. I'd see her around. Those two were dating as students and they’re still together. Usually I wouldn't recognize them until after they passed.
The most astonishing thing about my trip, which I didn’t notice until weeks later, is that I hardly took any photos. Although I had my camera with me all the time, I just didn’t use it. I’m not exactly disappointed; perhaps I was satisfied with the memories and didn’t want to disturb them with the reality of a digital image.

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