Friday, May 27, 2011

A Visit to PLNU

My beloved "Lit Department" now located in the Bond Academic Center

Yesterday after teaching my two high school writing classes at our co-op Class Day at Heritage Christian School, our private homeschooling "school," I stuffed all four kids into our ancient Corolla (who just celebrated her twentieth birthday, btw) and put-putted down to the coast and to Point Loma Nazarene University.

After taking Elizabeth to fill out her transcript request at the Records Office, we drove across campus to its heart (for me): the Department of Literature, Journalism, and Modern Languages, always known (somewhat inaccurately by me) as "The Lit Department."

It's still strange for me to walk on campus twenty-seven years after I first started as a freshman as the campus has radically changed since 1984. The Lit Department is where the Caf (cafeteria) used to be. The Caf (now called "The Commons") is where the rolling lawn that we all collapsed upon and napped in the sun after lunch used to be. Taylor Hall, where the Lit Department used to be, is now devoted to the Nursing Department. There's a new wing of the library and a new religion department far from the old one. Cabrillo Hall, which used to be the residence of the strange Madame Tingley, the noted Theosophist who built many of the campus buildings--Cabrillo Hall, which I swear was haunted my freshman year when we heard strange moaning noises at 2 AM while working on a yearbook deadline, has been moved across the lawn and the lane to a new location.

"The Greek" 

Parts of the campus, of course, remain unchanged. The Greek Amphitheater, pictured above, is the first place the freshman go for orientation and is also the spot where graduatations are held each spring, the last place we enter as students of PLNU before leaving as graduates of PLNU. The view from above The Greek is stunning: the Pacific undulates gently in the background, the sun sparkling on the whitecaps seen through a screen of ancient Eucalyptus and palm trees.

So why were we there yesterday? I was delivering prayer books to the Lit Department Assistant, Rachel, a long-time friend of mine. She ordered several copies of the Book of Common Prayer 2011, and as she was sooooo excited about receiving them, I couldn't resist hand-delivering them to her. She purchased one for her priest at Holy Spirit Anglican which meets in the Bethel Seminary Chapel near College Avenue Baptist Church. I hope that Fr. David likes it. Rachel also provided a copy of the prayer book to the outgoing Lit Department Chair; I hope Carol likes it as well! It's so wonderful to share a labor of love with my academic family.

View of Pacific Ocean behind the cross upon entering the PLNU Campus

PLNU has always meant so much to me, as a student, as a faculty member, and as a parent of a student this past year. To tell the truth, I had no plans to attend PLNU, much less a Christian college, when I set my sights on universities while in high school. No, my eyes were focused on two English departments: Dartmouth and UC Santa Cruz, both of which I had researched within an inch of their lives, studying every catalog offering and reading up on each tenured professor. Their academic reputations and credentials were stellar, and I was beyond excited about both schools, possible academically as I graduated eighth in a class of over 700 students. Local San Diego State University was my fall-back if financing didn't work for the other two; I had meticulously researched their English department as well and was satisfied with my findings.

Then one morning I ran into a group of Christian students, a rather close knit bunch I had known since first grade and had circulated along their fringes off and on. They mentioned to me that a recruiter from Point Loma College (as it was known then) was coming second period that morning to talk to any interested students, and we could be excused to miss Algebra II to attend his presentation. Now, anything that involved an excused absence from my least-favorite subject was a huge temptation, so I tagged along with the group.

As the recruiter spoke, a strange feeling of warmth stole through me. And by the time he finished his spiel, I knew without a doubt that I would be attending PLNU.

I knew next-to-nothing about the college. I didn't know what the Nazarene denomination was as I had grown up the only Christian in a nominally-religious home in which I attended a Presbyterian Church for a few years as a preschooler and a Methodist Church for a year in junior high. I knew next-to-nothing about this tiny school's English department. But I knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt that I was supposed to attend PLNU.

My dad asked me about why, if I wanted to attend a Christian college, I didn't just attend Christian Heritage College (now San Diego Christian College where my husband attended) as it was within walking distance from our home? I couldn't explain the compulsion I felt about PLNU. It was so strong that, having never set foot on campus, I cheerfully wrote out a huge check from my college fund to Point Loma, no questions asked. Talk about blind faith!

At the time as a fairly untutored Christian (who didn't even know what the tern "born again" meant during my senior year of high school), I didn't recognize this need to attend PLNU as God's call. Plus, I had by this time met my future husband; we were officially engaged on the night of my senior prom, so Dartmouth and UCSC were out of the question as I refused to leave San Diego. So this little college on the coast, with only half the population of my high school, became home for me for my first year in the dorms and the next three years as a married commuter student.

And I was truly home.

Sunset over the Lit Department

The Lit Department became my family. I devoted hours of working in the departmental office as a volunteer, sorting mail, making copies, grading tests (and eventually essays). I lived and breathed that department. And when my mentor, Maxine Walker, mentioned my attending graduate school and returning to PLNU to teach, I heard yet another call, one I both recognized and took seriously. So after sobbing my way through graduation behind my sunglasses, already homesick for my beloved department despite the honor of graduating second in my class, I attended USD for two years, received my Master's in English, and after another year off (during which I taught in USD's German Department, worked for Harcourt Brace, finished the work on the book Dr. Walsh and I edited, and gave birth to our daughter), I was fulfilling my dream of teaching writing and literature at PLNU.

But with more children coming along and yet another call to educate them at home, I slowed my teaching schedule, then stopped all together. Three, then four children made teaching too hard, and despite my "dream job," my heart was at home. Perhaps in a couple of years when our youngest no longer needs so much help with his education, and with this new prayer book I've edited to my credit, I may be able return to teaching a class or two, I hope.

So yesterday's visit brought many memories tumbling over each other, and many emotions as well: sadness that Elizabeth can't return next year due to financial aid matters, but knowing that she may need to sort out her own calling, despite being in the Lit Department for the past year with Dean Nelson (who kindly shared his office with me when I was teaching) as her advisor at first, then Carol Blessing (who started the same year I did, only she was tenure-track while I was an adjunct) as her advisor when Elizabeth changed her major from journalism to literature. It was wonderful, though, that she had Mike McKinney, my former German professor and whose second semester German classes I covered while he was on sabbatical, while I'm teaching Timothy and Benjamin German at home. (Stubborn Jonathan insists on learning Japanese, not that I can help him there!)

So this school year closes with bittersweetness as I celebrate the publication of the Book of Common Prayer 2011 that I helped to edit and the close of Elizabeth's first year of college, but not knowing when or if she will return to PLNU; the boys do not seem interested in attending PLNU at present. Of course, if I'm back teaching there, despite the horrendous commute, the faculty discount could make attending there worth their while.... ;)

The main walkway we used to call "Caf Lane"

Strolling down memory lane ("Caf Lane" in this instance),

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