Roper's Alumni Weekend Speech
|Clyde Roper (right) with wife Ingrid|
Thanks President Shearer, etc. for the opportunity for me to share a few thoughts about class reunions. Even though I represent the gray-beard group of reunionists, I hope my remarks will be relevant to those of you who are first time reunion attendees.
What were your first thoughts when you received the announcement of your reunion, be it your fifth, twenty-fifth, or fiftieth? I’ll bet many of us thought, “Oh NO! Has it been THAT long?! Where did the time go?” I think we can make a good case that if you had this sort of reaction, we must gratefully credit Transylvania for having achieved one of its important goals: to send its graduates forth into the world to be active, engaged, informed, productive citizens, no matter what their calling might be. Time passes quickly when you’re productively busy.
After the initial shock of realizing that, yes, those intervening years have flooded by, did you have a mental kaleidoscope of memories flashing around, like a pool of feeding goldfish? Did you picture your first day on campus? Shocking, perhaps? A bit scary? A little lonely? Certainly you recalled new friends, even the relationships that developed into life-long associations. I’m sure you also recalled some of the hilarious antics, pranks, and jokes that are a natural part of being a college kid away from the tethers of parents, siblings, teachers, may I suggest even preachers? And how could we possibly forget those most favored professors and their courses? We can’t, not anymore than we can forget our least favorite professors and classes. Let’s not go into any details of that here, we’ll save all of that for our individual gatherings. These stories and reflections we can share during the too-short time we have together to celebrate our reunited youth, as well as the progression of our lives, our careers, our families, perhaps even our dreams and disappointments.
Following those flashbacks, you had to come back to present reality and make the decision: shall I go to this reunion? Can I afford the time? The expense? Or here’s a possible solution for folks who live far away from Lexington: “why don’t you send a contribution to the alumni fund in the amount that you would have to spend to go to the reunion?” Well, as fruitful as that would be to the alumni fund, I am positive that everyone involved in planning and managing the massive effort of sponsoring this reunion is delighted that we appear in person.
There remains one reality that transcends the kinds of reflections we have when we contemplate our days as a collegian here on our beautiful, conducive Transy campus. Transylvania changed our lives. Transylvania helped to mold us into who we are and what we do. Almost subversively, Transylvania is in our blood, its impact sustains us. Our years here were the years when we left childhood behind. At first, we began to get a glimpse of adulthood, both through our formal studies and through our interactions with faculty, staff, and fellow students; through the nurturing, encouraging learning environment that became a gradually expanding microcosm that released us into the world of adulthood. Graduates we became, still green, still tender, but now prepared to assume the duties, the responsibilities, and the joys of adulthood. Speaking only for those of us in the class of 1959, I can say that the color has changed from green to grey, the texture from tender to a bit tougher, and the adulthood to undeniable fruition, to the extent that we now can comfortably revert to childhood when we play with our grandchildren!
I would like to share with you a very few of the memories I have of being a Transy student starting in September of 1955. Believe me, I was just a kid, without the benefit of a television education about the world (I apologize for using the terms “television” and “education” linked in the same sentence, PBS notwithstanding). The world I left behind for Transy consisted of a 50 mile radius from coastal Rye, New Hampshire, that is to Portland, Maine, to the New Hampshire White Mountains, to Boston (to see the Red Sox and the Celtics), and out onto the North Atlantic Ocean, well beyond Captain John Smith’s Isles of Shoals. My folks dropped me off at South Station in Boston with my footlocker, my apprehensions, and the admonition to “try to make it home for Christmas”. I was met at the Lexington train station the next afternoon by Dr. Ben Lewis, the long-time, beloved philosophy and theology professor. As my former minister in Rye, Ben Lewis had introduced and recommended me to Transy.
Now I’m going to use the names of fellow students in the Class of ’59, just to remind them, not to embarrass them anyway, the statutes of limitation surely have run out by now! But the events and antics I relate will be recognizable to most of you, because they transcend time and can be representative of any era.
I got settled into my room in the good old (the emphasis here is on OLD) Ewing Hall and looked forward to getting to know my roommate, Joe Mattingly, from somewhere in the nearby hills of Kentucky. The usual topics in getting acquainted came out; where do you live?, do you have any siblings?, did you have a job? Then I asked perhaps the most important question of all to a late-teenage boy: “Do you have a cahr?” “A WHAT?” “A cahr?” Joe looked a bit confused and repeated, “What’s that?” By this point I was beginning to wonder about the admission standards of this school! Finally I said, “You know, a vehicle with four wheels, an engine, preferably a V-8, with dualies, four on the floor, and it goes varoom, varoom!” “Oh,” he says, “you mean a carrrr!”
My very first class the next day was Freshman English, with that venerable, dear Dr. Mitchell Clark. As she took roll, she kept her head down, reading off the names very quickly, so she could get started on topics that really mattered. I was sitting on the far top back row, so as not to draw attention, when Dr. Clark called out: “Roper”, whereupon I eagerly answered, as everyone else had done, “He-ah!” She snapped her head up so fast I don’t know how she avoided whiplash! “Who said THAT!?” “I did, ma’am.” She drilled me with those well-trained eyes and said, “Young man, before you leave this class you’ll learn to speak the English language!” “Oh, I’m sorry, I thought I already did,” I blurted out, quite taken aback! This could have been the end for me, but Dr. Clark was one of my favorite professors and we became good friends, along with Dr. Monroe Moosnick, Dr. John Wright, Dr. Ben Lewis, Dr. Leland Brown, and many others.
That first classroom experience was just the beginning! At that time Transy had only a few foreign students, one from Taiwan, one from Germany, and, I suddenly realized, one from New Hampshire!
At some point that first week, we held Freshman Class elections for class officers. Some wag nominated me for President, and all candidates for office had to give a short campaign speech. As frequently is the case in politics, no one understood a word I said, so I got elected! Fortunately the rest of the officers were fluent in “southern”, so we had a good year!
My education in things southern grew rapidly our sophomore year, when Guy Waldrop and I were roommates. Our room was on the first floor of Ewing Hall and it faced Fourth Street. The fire station was just down the street and frequently when we were studying, the engines would go roaring and screaming past our open window. Guy and I would leap out the window and chase down the fire engines, made a good break from his efforts to master the German language and mine to wake up from Dr. Foster’s sociology! That windowsill also served as our refrigerator when we brought back some goodie from our jobs in the dining hall kitchen, with or without Mrs. Berg’s knowledge!
Guy was dedicated to converting me to southern ways, and we had become such good friends, that he decided I needed to learn to chew tobacco. He cut off a big gob and handed it to me, without a word of instruction. “What do I do?” I asked. “Oh, just chew it!” He said. So I chewed and chewed and suddenly felt very dizzy, with a very contrary stomach. Seems he had neglected to tell me NOT to swallow! I decided then and there that if this vile habit was what it took to be even a pretend southerner, I’d never make the grade! And you can see that Guy is still laughing!
I think it was our junior year when some of us thought we would surprise Ben Henry (we called him Fuzzy, as in Fuzzy Wuzzy had no hair). He always came rushing out of Ewing Hall in his determined gait to get to class a bit ahead of time. Ben was the proud owner of a tiny car called a Crosley, sort of a 1950s American version of an early Volkswagon Bug. In order to protect the innocent, I’ll name some of the guilty, I think: Danny Cobb, Guy Waldrop, Chris Hobgood and I pushed the yellow Crosley to the bottom of the steps going up to the front door of Ewing. Then we picked it up and carried it to the top stoop and left it there. The shocked look on Fuzzy’s face and his puzzlement on how he was going to get that car down, was well worth the strain of lugging it up there! As well as lugging it back down!
Well that’s about enough, except to mention our senior year, when Nell and Guy Waldrop, Bicky and Bill Schiphorst and Ingrid and I lived in the married apartments on the end of Ewing Hall. Our doors were always open to ensure instant conversation and to make certain that no one made popcorn without sharing it! A book could be written about our antics and good times, which would have to include dog bone soup and snow ice cream (the only kind we could afford), a bride giving the first haircut to her husband after their marriage, and she still does! And the unwelcome, formalin-preserved, huge cat being dissected for comparative anatomy.
Clearly the Transylvania experience is one that lasts a lifetime. Indeed, the point of coming to Transylvania in the first place presumably is to get a very special kind of education: a liberal arts education that is so good that it sustains us throughout our entire lives. It could be our terminal degree that enabled us to enter our chosen fields well prepared to excel. Our liberal arts education provided us with some knowledge of just about everything we though we needed to know and then some.
We at least have an appreciation of history, literature, the arts, languages, even the sciences, as well as an in-depth command of our major field. Or, Transy prepared us for advanced degrees in business, law, higher education, medicine, sciences, etc. In either case, our Transylvania education prepared us solidly and well for our chosen paths along life’s highways and seaways. I began to really appreciate my Transy education early in graduate school when, usually on Saturday nights, our only “time off”, our discussions turned away from marine biology and oceanography and dipped into philosophy, literature, history. I realized that others who had gone to large universities had a stronger science background than I, but I had a better EDUCATION, that liberal arts background that enabled me to converse with some degree of knowledge, rather than merely opinion.
The philosophers might ask, “What is it that makes us what we are?” A few of the answers are obvious; genetics, familial and social environment, early and high school education. But I suggest we privileged ones here today are WHO we are and who we have become, because we are Transylvanians!
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