Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Gratitude, Nostalgia and a Bit of Deja Vu

The Gordon B. Hinckley Alumni Center (brand spanking new!)

The photo of me on the left was taken in December 1999 when I was home and on my way to Washington D.C. to start the Washington Seminar. I was all prepared to graduate in April 2000 if not for a little thing called "Biology 100", which I didn't complete until 2006.

My trip to the great state of Utah after eight years of being away (and ten years since I started my college days there) was an interesting emotional journey. The nostalgic vacation started with visiting three of my friends in Salt Lake City over the weekend. I didn't realize it until later, but that actually worked out well. After visiting them, I actually missed them as I walked around BYU campus and my old stomping grounds of Provo and Orem. Had I done the BYU visit first and then visited friends, I would've had something more to look forward to, as visiting friends was the more enjoyable aspect of my vacation.

Rather than a superlong post about my journey, I will use several posts. This one is about BYU itself, another one will be about my visits with friends Matt, Mandy and Janell. And there might be perhaps a third about my overall impression or about Salt Lake City.

Anyhow, it was nice to have wheels again and blast my music as I made the journey south from Salt Lake City. What surprised me the most was all the development along I-15 south of the Point of the mountain that divides Salt Lake Valley from Utah Valley. Now, it's getting to the point where Provo is a distant suburb of Salt Lake City rather than a town that had some undeveloped landscapes between the two communities. Thanksgiving Point now looks more like an amusement park than a mere curiousity it was before. They have a ginormous dinosaur museum that I would've loved to have checked out if I had more time, as well as a movie theater and other amusements.

Once I reached Orem and Provo, I was surprised how nice it was. It's grown quite a bit. A lot of things looked new. It's definitely a booming area, not a decaying one (like I've seen in several places in Georgia). To help transport me back to 1997 in my "cheap version of a time machine", I played CDs of my favourite music from the time, which included songs like "Fly"/"Every Morning" by Sugar Ray, "Baby...One More Time" by Britney Spears, "Semi-Charmed Life"/"Jumper"/"How's It Gonna Be"/"Graduate" by Third Eye Blind, "That's The Way I Remember It" by Garth Brooks (as "Chris Gaines"), and the CD I listened to a lot during my happiest time at BYU (the spring of 1999): "Maybe You've Been Brainwashed Too" by New Radicals. Listening to the music from my college era did a lot to help usher on the memories as I drove around. I did feel a little "transported" back in time...though reality had a way of intruding upon my memories.

For instance, the kids these days are SPOILED! I saw so many of them with laptops and cell phones. While cell phones were around ten years ago, I didn't know many who owned one as they were still a bit pricey for a college student. And laptops are plentiful and cheaper these days, so it was no surprise to see so many students sitting around staring at their laptops. I wonder what it would be like to attend college in the days of Facebook and Myspace, laptops and cell phones, YouTube and iPods.

It was nice to see that construction doesn't take up a huge portion of the campus like it did when I was there. I was lucky enough to experience the opening of the library's new entrance my last semester. Now, they have a cool new building, the Joseph F. Smith Building which has a cool architectural style (the courtyard reminds me of some European palace) and in the area between that building and the Harold B. Lee Library, there were cool places to sit in these weird-shaped walls that contained grass in the space between.

Architectural designs is one area that is getting better. The two buildings I hated because of their 1950s-era architecture (not my favourite period for architecture) are the Harold B. Lee Library and the de Jong Concert Hall. Both of those buildings still need a facelift--badly!

I got a chill walking past the Testing Center, perhaps the only building that could (and did) reduce me to tears on many occasions (as I got instant test scores back on the multiple choice exams). Amazing how one building could carry so much bad vibes. You'd think they do torture in there or something!

I was able to visit with my old LDS History professor Alex Baugh for about 15 minutes. It's always cool talking with him because he is so enthusiastic about LDS History that he knows a lot about my church as well. It was great to catch up with him and see that he's still as enthusiastic as ever. He even told me about the former prophet of my church, Grant McMurray, that I didn't know: Grant doesn't attend church anymore since he turned in his resignation and priesthood card. Alex also told me that the new prophet, Steve Veazey, is in his 40s and probably a much needed boost for our church to attract younger people, which is what it seems like Veazey is trying to do.

At the BYU bookstore, when I was picking out a few things I wanted, a fire alarm went off in which everyone had to exit the building. But no one moved until we were shooed out of the building by employees. It was like deja vu! I remember that happening a lot when I was there. A fire alarm goes off in the Wilkinson Center/Bookstore and no one rushes to the exits until we're told to leave. It was funny that it still goes on like that.

I also visited my former supervisor, Lois Moffett, who has her own office in another part of the Administration building (shaped like an x). She was the Veteran's Support administrator, now the admissions person. It was good to visit with her. And she has a great memory. She asked me if I ever completed Biology 100 and got my degree! I don't remember telling her that, but perhaps she did some checking on it herself to see if I graduated yet. She also remembered that I was accepted by Senator Dianne Feinstein's office for an internship (the first place that accepted me and was my second choice). It was great to see her smiling face again and catch up. She's just 2 years away from retirement.

As a bonus, the Art Museum featured the works of Minerva Teichert, whose paintings of scenes from "The Book of Mormon" I took a liking to my first semester at BYU when I saw the paintings for the first time. What a blessing it was to see them again. That was like a gift from the universe! My favourite painting of hers still remains "The Lamanite Maidens" which a teacher (Doris Dant) had given me a copy of (she was editor of a book on Teichert's paintings). I still have that copy framed and it currently hangs in my bathroom at my apartment.

My favourite buildings on campus when I attended were the Eyering Science Center (which no longer has the dinosaur in the lobby, which always reminded me of the building in "Jurassic Park") and the white building on the edge of campus with an open center in which there is a big staircase to the very bottom and one can see all floors from the center. I can't remember the name of the building, but a lot of business classes were held in there, as well as a few political science classes. I remember a student telling me that this building was the box the Provo Temple came in, and I thought that was a cool idea.

And speaking of cool architectural styles, the brand new Gordon B. Hinckley Center for Alumni and Visitors is awesome! It has a gazebo that overlooks Utah Valley. The architectural style is kind of majestic. As I walked around inside, people were still moving into the building and setting up workspace cubicles. It even smelled nice and new. But I'm glad that they are improving their architecture designs. The campus is beginning to look modern instead of the 1950s time warp I always felt when I was there.

Deseret Towers, where I lived my first semester, is undergoing a renovation. In a book about BYU I saw in a bookstore (which professes to be the uncensored opinion of BYU students and unauthorized by the university), Deseret towers was considered to be the worst place to live by BYU students. Wow. I loved living there. The only reason I moved out was because I couldn't afford it and found a cheaper place to live. Had I the money, I would've stayed least the first year.

For dinner, I ate at the Thai restaurant I worked at my first semester. It's on 300 South. The lady I knew and the Lao cook I knew no longer work there. Instead, they have two other Thai people. I had a nice conversation about Thailand. When the Thai lady asked why I didn't get married when I was at BYU, I told her that I wasn't LDS. When she asked me my religion, things deteriorated rapidly when I told her. She started ripping on my church and said that God said that He didn't want women in the priesthood and blah blah blah. I told her that it was just her personal opinion and I didn't have a problem with women in the priesthood. She kept on with the attacks, but I resumed eating my food. I wasn't going to get into it with her. When I paid the bill, the Thai guy who was the cook and the cashier apologized to me for her behaviour. I told him that it was nothing to worry about. I left a tip that was more than 15%. But when I walked out and back to the car, I laughed and thanked God for the little reminder. This little episode reminded me of what I hated about BYU (that as soon as Mormons found out my religion, they started attacking it rather than accepting that it was my belief, and trying to convert me to their "truth") and also showed me how much I've changed. The me of ten years ago would've started ripping on the LDS Church and pointing out the inconsistencies in logic and whatnot. The conversation would've gotten ugly real quick with the lady leaving in tears. But the me of today just didn't want to get into it. I kind of felt sorry for her, but amused...because she was asking so many personal questions and giving unsolicited advice that I should be married with children by now. Gosh, like I hadn't thought that myself! But I had told her that I wanted a better paying job first before I take on family responsibilities. However, it is my business when and if I decide to have a family or not. That she would be so presumptious of a stranger and offer unsolicited advice about what I "need to do" was amusing to me (rather than offensive). It was just one more reminder of why I'm glad I'm not in that church. People in my church don't put those demands on me or offer unsolicited advice.

So, with that, I got my emotional closure on the whole "BYU experience." I realized just how much I changed since my time there. I changed, but aside from the buildings, BYU hasn't changed. I picked up a copy of "The Daily Universe" and in the letters to the editor was a letter from a current BYU student complaining about Al Gore being honored with the Nobel Peace Prize. Some things never change!

However, I was happy to see that there was an Amnesty International chapter on campus as they had a booth by the Wilkinson Center with a poster asking students to get involved in supporting the Buddhist monks of Burma. It's nice to know that there are conscientious students who care about Buddhists in Burma and even those who protested Dick Cheney as commencement speaker last April.

But, as I left the campus, the one thing I nearly forgotten about was just how lonely it was there for me. It was the most lonely period of my life. I've never felt as lonely before or since my days at BYU. In fact, there were three songs from that time period that even seemed to illuminate my loneliness: Boyz II Men's "Four Seasons of Loneliness" was a favourite of mine my first semester; "Show Me the Meaning of Being Lonely" by the Backstreet Boys was a favourite of mine the last semester; and Britney Spears sang in "Baby...One More Time": "My loneliness is killing me..."

In retrospect, I don't think I would've experienced the emotional high of Washington Seminar and the enjoyment of hanging out with my small group of friends (Matt Baker, Janell Cerva, Mandy George, Brooke Roberts, and Jantzen Anderson) if I didn't experience nine seasons of loneliness at BYU, searching for a Mormon friend who wouldn't make an issue of my religion, who wouldn't take it as a personal insult that I didn't want to join their faith. I believe I found that on Washington Seminar, but I didn't find it at BYU. My experience is what it was and I did grow spiritually because of it. So, thank you BYU for accepting me as one of your students and for my Bachelor of Arts degree. I'm proud to be an alumni, proud to be a Cougar. Gratitude is what I feel today, rather than a bitter loneliness. I don't know if I'll make a point to visit BYU again, for I feel that my trip accomplished what I set out for: emotional closure on that experience. I can now set out on the path I'm meant to be on, and hopefully set down roots to start my own family, as the Thai Mormon lady advised. God bless her, and most of all, my BYU friends who have kept in touch with me all these years. You are truly a blessing and the best thing about my BYU experience.


Mandalynn said...

I loved reading about your day back on campus. The Alumni center looks awesome. I guess I will have to take the 45 minute trip and visit campus for myself.

By the way, I'm super excited for your next post.

Sansego said...

Make sure you stop by the Hinckley Alumni Center and the Joseph F. Smith Building (it replaced the old one that was there when we were).

I enjoyed our conversation. It's a shame that we couldn't talk longer. It was cool to have a chance to catch up...but you have to make a trip up to Portland soon to see your brother (and me!). I love to play tourguide!

Sean Langdon said...

i enjoyed reading about your trip!

(that chris gaines (aka garth brooks) cd is one of the best!)

j janell cf said...

i'm glad you had a good visit nick. and i am glad you sound so at peace about everything. it makes me sad that it was so hard for you at byu--not just because as a mormon i hate that other mormons would treat you like that, but because as a person, i hate that other people would treat you like that. i don't get it. but i'm glad i got to meet you (even if you did think i was intolerant!) it would have been good to talk more, but even so it was good to see you, and i hope it's not another 6 years before it happens again!

d/b/c/m said...

thanks for the vicarious trip. i really wish we could have known each other earlier and we could have commiserated. i hope you don't think that your isolation was only because of religious judgements. there is always that element in a conservative culture. i think a lot of people felt the same way you did for all different kinds of "differences", though. also, you happen to be more outspoken than most, which is something i love about you, but which tends to invite criticism. i would have thought you would have been a celebrity there to some degree, since i heard so much complaining about lack of diversity and the conservative culture (but i was an art minor...)

anyway, i'm anxious to hear more about your trip.

oh, and i worked at the dinosaur museum for a summer--it is great. save it for next trip.

Sansego said...

Janell: I didn't think you were intolerant. Just early on, as we were getting to know each other, all I remember is Matt coming to my defense against you and Jantzen when he felt that you and Jantzy-pants made "intolerant" statements. I honestly don't remember what either of you said...but I was impressed with Matt from the get-go. There's a lot of reasons why I think he (and Brooke) are "the most perfect people" I've ever met, but that was just one of them.

I wish that we could've spent Tuesday afternoon together. I was looking forward to a longer conversation with you and to hear what else Jacob would say. He's so funny and cute. You're right...your children are at the right age when they are fun to watch and listen to.

Brooklyn: I wish we could've known each other at BYU too. I was a bit outspoken at BYU. I remember for my Composition class, we had to read examples of bad and good writing. For my example of bad writing, I read from Genesis and completely shocked the class. It was the passage where so and so begat so and so who begat so and son, ad nauseum...