Memories can be funny things. Sometimes, my sister shares a story and I wonder what is going on in my mind because I can’t remember this moment that she remembers so vividly. Then, there are other memories that seem so random or pointless, taking up space in my brain for no reason. At a recent staff meeting we reflected on memories. The poem “What Was Precious” by alumnus John Linstrom invited us to think about what memories we hold. I immediately recalled being three years old and digging for worms in the rain at the seminary playground where we lived. The rich experience of those around the table sharing what may seem like a random memory was a delightful moment. Memories that were connected to not just major moments, but to smells, objects, and people.
This is Homecoming Week at Valparaiso University, a time that invites the Valpo community to reflect on what makes this place home. The space matters, but more so the memories that these spaces evoke. I moved a lot growing up and always struggled when asked to name my “hometown,” since I didn’t feel like I had one. However, the many places on my journey—and especially my undergraduate experience—all have feelings of home because of the people who travelled with me, helping me to discover who I was, and creating a community where that person could be fully seen and loved. The saying goes, “Home is where the heart is,” but I think it is more than that—it is where you feel relaxed enough to be yourself, to be known, to be supported, and to be free to explore. I think college creates a feeling of “home” rather quickly because it is a place where people have the freedom to explore who they are while being supported by so many classmates, staff, and faculty along the way.
Homecoming Week is special because it is one of the few moments when those who call this place home today and those who did once upon a time, come together. There will be alumni walking around campus, revisiting spaces where their random memories took place. They might lament how things have changed—maybe a significant memory of theirs took place in Huegli Hall, which is now a beautiful, grassy lawn. They might rejoice and be a little jealous—things like the Harre Union or Helge Center that didn’t exist when they were students. They will be looking to see if staff and faculty who played a role in their time on campus are still around. More than anything, they are looking to reconnect with a significant moment of “home.”
One of the spaces that many alumni are drawn to when they visit Valpo is the Chapel of the Resurrection. It is a space that hasn’t changed much, except for maybe chairs instead of pews. Alumni come back and share how the Chapel still creates a sense of awe when they walk in and see the stained glass windows and Christus Rex. One alumnus, who was traveling through town and made a stop to see the Chapel, talked about how when they walked in, there was an almost peace that washed over them. They said, “I think when I was here as a student this place was a place that kept me grounded in God’s love as I figured out who I was.” We talked about how college was a time where they felt free and safe to explore who they were. They talked about how they think the Chapel being a central place on campus shapes the whole community. It reminds the community of Valparaiso that we are here not to just get students through classes and to meet budgets, but because we are called to shape God’s people as they discover who God calls them to be. The Chapel reminded the alumnus, and hopefully reminds all who call Valparaiso home, that we are in a place where we have the freedom to discover who we are and where we are reminded of the call to serve others. What makes Valparaiso University great — what makes it home — are the relationships people create with one another, and how that creates a space to explore who God creates each of us to be. May you always feel at home here.
Sept. 25, 2019