For the twentieth time in my career the residence halls closed here at WIU this morning. The weeks mass exodus ending with an empty parking lot and overflowing dumpsters. As I have done on many occasions over those twenty years I drove around campus with the windows down and wound up at an old and familiar place to me, the stoop of Henninger Hall outside my very first Hall Director apartment. I have spent many opening eve nights and closing afternoons in this same spot. It never really gets old looking out over the empty Q-lot to the west sky line.
The routine is almost always the same. I bring a hand rolled cigar, turn the key back on my jeep with the radio playing, and kill an hour in quiet contemplation. It actually dawned on me this afternoon that I have spent an entire generation of my life working on this campus in some way or another for the Division of Student Services, mostly in housing.
As a closet sentimentalist it is virtually impossible for memories not to come flooding back about various students and staff that have passed through and continue to be part of my life. I have been able to meet some absolutely incredible people in my time here. I have stood in weddings with them and gone to funerals. I have become friends with successful alumni and ordinary everyday hero’s whose work too often goes unnoticed. I have been given opportunities beyond my wildest imagination. Hell, I even got to work at two Super Bowls. Pretty good gig for a kid that graduated with thirty three in high school.
The best part has really been the opportunity to get to know and become friends with people that shared the common theme of loving the university they attended or worked and served. The students and halls staffs I worked with in the mid/late nineties in particular have left an indelible footprint on my professional DNA. They worked hard, played harder and made a difference to enumerable individuals that passed through WIU and Macomb. They regularly make the pilgrimage back to this paradise on the prairie to reconnect, go to their favorite watering holes and tell a few lies. The stories improve with each passing year and they never get old (except to spouses who have grown to understand they will have to live with them).
As I sat on that bench today and thought about what has been accomplished due to the efforts of these died in the wool, “bleed purple”, life-long Leathernecks there is no way to hold back the emotion. This is a special place that has been made that way by special people. I have always hated closings. Our profession is a transient one where people come and go because that is truly the nature of it if we are doing our jobs right. Closings have always been sad and depressing for me. As one that stays while watching the tail lights pull out of town they are truly an ending. The educated part of me knows that my ending is someone else's beginning—and I know that is a good thing. So today, I am trying to remember the good things like the friendships, families, marriages, and mentors. I will remember the late nights, laughter, tears, stupid mistakes, and great accomplishments.