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Sunday, October 9, 2011

A Joyful Reunion With Friends

 This post is about Roberta/Bea.  But it is an important part of our story, so we want to tell it.

From September 30th  through October 2nd, I attended my college reunion – first time I had made it to a reunion since graduating in 1974.  I flew to Dulles Airport in northern Virginia, and then drove some of the back roads to Winchester.  The highways now bypass the little towns I remember driving through when I’d drive between home and college, when I was a student.  The drive was filled with lovely scenery, but my favorite was the Shenandoah River.  The leaves had not yet turned along the river – they were fading, but not assuming fall colors yet.  And the heavy overcast layer of clouds overhead made me sense a more intimate connection with the river.  It was hard to get back in the car and drive away.

Oh, Shenandoah, I loved hearing your rippling waters, and smelling your sweet muddy banks.  The quiet rhythms of your coursing are forever in my heart.

Shenandoah University is affiliated with the Methodist Church, and I spent four years as the only Mormon on campus.  But I never felt threatened, and I remember teaching others about my faith many times, while defending it only once.  And even then, a (no longer) unknown knight in shining armor rode to my rescue, defending my religion for me.  I have very pleasant memories of my four years here, and thanks to modern technology, I have been able to re-connect with many friends whom I met at Shenandoah.  My mind has been filled for weeks, rediscovering the sweet, funny, helpful, and even dumb things we did as students. 

As I drove onto campus, I simply had to stop and wonder at the beauty.  I have always had a soft spot in my heart for Shenandoah, but it was mostly for the people, not the campus itself.  Over the years, the leaders at Shenandoah have made some wonderful decisions, and the campus is now as beautiful as a park.

What was called “The Pit” when I was a student is now a wonderful duck pond, stocked with fish and engineered with a fountain in the center of the pond, to help aerate the water.  The building to the right in the background was where I spent most of my class time – the Conservatory building.  I got to spend some time in this building again, during the reunion.  The alumni choir rehearsed and participated in a concert here, and I got to sing next to some of my favorite friends.

I relived a scene from the movie “Hook” – remember when one of the lost boys took Peter’s face, scrunched it in his hands, and, looking carefully at his eyes, finally pronounced, “Oh, THERE you are, Peter!”  Those of us at the reunion did the same thing, and commented on learning to ignore the gray or bottle-colored hair, the differences in our bodies, but finding our long-unseen friends in our eyes.

With squeals of joy and cries of recognition, Friday night and Saturday morning rehearsals squeezed in some concentrated efforts at learning five or six pieces of music, so we could sing on our own as well as sing with a student chorus.  There was a balance of styles –  an opera chorus, a Handel piece, a fun arrangement of a sea chantey, and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s arrangement of “Oh, Shenandoah”, which I am proud to say I was able to sing without weeping.  Can’t say as much for the arrangement of our Alma Mater song – once we put that song together with an amazing pianist and a total of about 100 singers, it called up some very strong emotions.  But my favorite piece was a wonderfully schmaltzy piece (of course) which took Shakespeare’s famous soliloquy from “Twelfth Night”, but instead of being a sarcastic, bitter speech, the words were edited to make it a lovely, romantic wish. 

This is Carl Harris, our alumni choir conductor, himself a Shenandoah grad.  He was was very patient and kind with us as we scrabbled to learn pieces in 3 (count them, 3) rehearsals!

I was honored at this reunion, which still amazes me.  I was chosen as the second-ever recipient of the “Service to the Community” award.  I was trained by my parents to offer service as I was able, and I’ve never thought that was anything but normal.  But the Alumni Committee still thought it worth noticing.  So I was able to invite some of my friends to come sit with me at the luncheon, and it was wonderful to have so many reminders of a happy time in my life.  Mrs. Doctor Madlon Laster, wife of Mr. Doctor Jim Laster, was willing to introduce me, and then I got an award and was able to urge those gathered to go out and serve.  Along with the pictures are my concluding remarks:

I want to share two important truths with you today.  The first is that God loves every one of His children, no matter where He has placed them.  An important corollary to that truth is that every one of his children has something to teach, and I should listen.

The second truth is that we in the United States of America are blessed beyond our recognition.  And the corollary here is that we have a responsibility, an obligation, to serve.  And when we do, we find that, more than enriching the lives of others, our own lives are enriched beyond our ability to measure.  Take the chance.  Go find someone to serve.

Shenandoah University taught me to love all kinds of music, all kinds of people, and all kinds of opportunities.  When I traveled back to our friends’ house in Salt Lake City on Sunday, October 2, I hardly needed an airline jet to fly – I could have floated!

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