It is hard to believe that I graduated from college 25 years ago. Yet as I look around at my life, enough has certainly gone on between now and then for it to be a fact. My college reunion is going to be in October during Homecoming Weekend. So perhaps now is a good time to do a series of blogs related to college, specifically my Houghton College experience, and related events.
Let me begin with a caveat. While I am intending to write truthfully and factually (as my story will show, much of my background, at college and after, was related to journalism and reporting), I am probably as prone as anyone else to “rewriting history” to fit the narrative of what we know must have happened, whether my first person experiences agree with it or not. Memory being memory, when faced with a hard fact (something in print) versus the narrative, narrative often wins. (For a very good explanation of this, see Sarah Hoyt’s blog here.)
But I will at least, through many of the blogs, attempt to reference actual hard copy sources. I have four year’s worth of The Houghton Star (student newspaper) and The Boulder (yearbook) as something to anchor my musings to something solid. But whether the anchor or the narrative reigns …. probably remains to be seen. And those readers who shared some of the experiences, and might know, might still disagree on which side wins.
So with that introduction, I am going to start by trying to answer a pre-college question: Why I chose to go to Houghton College.
Part of that question of course is why I chose to go to college at all. That goes to family history, and the high school I attended.
I grew up in a farm family. Both my grandmother’s were school teachers. Both had taught in one-room school houses early in their careers before entering more consolidated districts later. I am sure both attended some sort of school, though whether it was college, a teacher’s college, or other, I don’t really know. But I know that education was important to them, and that their grandchildren went to college.
Neither of my grandfathers went to college, to my knowledge. My maternal grandfather was going to go on and be an engineer, but his elder brother died suddenly and he ended up taking over the farm. I don’t think he ever completed anything beyond the 8th grade, yet he was one of the most educated and well read men I have known.
My mother attended college, but didn’t complete, and after a year or two enlisted in the air force for 3 years. After she got out she met my father and married him. My dad didn’t attend school. He graduated high school just before World War II and spent the war years either working on airplanes in plants in Buffalo, NY, or providing vital war efforts on the farm he took over from his father.
So education was important, but not the specific form of college.
Now about high school. My parents enrolled my siblings and I in a private school, Horseheads Christian School, when I was in third grade, and from there we went to Twin Tiers Baptist High School. My brother was valedictorian of his class of 11, I became valedictorian of my class of 28. We obviously had the brains for college. Both of us earned Regents diplomas in New York in addition to local diplomas. So college was assumed. The question was where, what to study, and why.
What was easy for me at the time: writing. Somewhere in high school I had gotten interested in writing (I had always been interested in words), and at the time had a fiction idea and was going to write and publish a novel.
Why I wanted to go to college? One thing it certainly wasn’t — a means to a job. I had no thoughts about studying something to make a career path to earn money at something. It was for the learning and education itself. I didn’t know it at the time, but I picked up the formalized version of the concept at Houghton — the idea of the liberal arts education preparing one for life, not a vocation.
But where? The limiting factor for me, at the start, was a private school, even a faith-based school. 4-year, no community college. I had placed very well on the PSAT in 11th grade, and received a form that would send my results to 3 interested schools. I already had two schools on my horizon: Liberty University, Lynchburg, VA (my brother’s school), and Cedarville College, Cedarville, Ohio, but what school for the third school? (I had looked at Bob Jones University, and the program just didn’t seem right — I wasn’t put off by the strict attendance or dress code policies, they would have felt right at home compared to TTBHS).
My Grandmother Lightfoot asked me to consider another school that I had never heard of before. She had an article about it having just turned 100 years old. It was a very strong school academically, and she was very impressed with it. It also happened to be closer to home than either of the other two, though that didn’t make a difference to me. So I put down Houghton College.
All three schools sent information, and I visited all three. All three had good cases, but only Houghton had an actual writing program, and even had a program where I could major in writing fiction.
I was impressed with the program, with the campus, the relaxed dress code and atmosphere was okay. I was impressed with the faculty, and the faith mission of the school.
But it was sponsored by the Wesleyan Church. When I announced my plans, as the other seniors were announcing, back at TTBHS, I got intent questions from people, many of them faculty, at the school. As Baptists, they wanted to know if I was sure about going to a Wesleyan school. The only teacher who didn’t seem to blink an eye at it was Mr. Wilson, our Bible teacher, and perhaps the most favorite teacher and father figure we had at Twin Tiers.
And thus the decision was made, and that is how and why I chose to attend Houghton College.