To Know as One is Known

Having taught at Franklin College for over four decades, I have found Homecoming to be one of my favorite college events.  This was especially true this fall, when Homecoming fell on the last weekend of September.  

The weather could not have been better for this year’s celebration.  There have been Homecomings in the past when it’s been rainy, cold, overcast, and all all-around unpleasant, deterring all but the most committed alumni from returning to campus.  But last Saturday was bright and warm, a photographer’s dream, reminding alumni of how beautiful the campus can be in the fall.

If anyone wants to know what makes a small college so special, they should come to Homecoming.  As I have for several years, I sat at a table outside the bookstore signing copies of novels in my mystery series.  The joy for me, however, wasn’t in selling books but in renewing friendships with past students and colleagues. 

What struck me this year in my conversations with alumni was the prevalence of two words as they reflected on their time as students.  The first word was “relationships.”  There is no guarantee that a small college will promote life-long friendships, but the likelihood of establishing meaningful relationships is greater when the enrollment is in the low thousands.  I like to say that if you want to be anonymous and invisible, don’t enroll in a small college.  At a small college, students not only bond with other students, but also with faculty and staff.  We know others and others know us—really know us.    

The other word that came up repeatedly in my conversations with returning alumni this past Homecoming was “transformation.” The alums’ years at the college, their classes, and their relationships transformed them.  They not only gained information; they experienced transformation.  I said the same in return.  Teaching at this small liberal-arts college and making friends with students and colleagues transformed me.  

The most poignant reminder of how a college like Franklin transforms students, faculty, and staff came late Friday afternoon at the memorial service celebrating the life of Yolanda “Yo-Yo” Askew, a graduate of the college in the late eighties.  As friends shared at the service, Yo-Yo as a student was a positive force to be reckoned with.  She offered leadership in a number of organizations and spearheaded the formation of a minorities support group.  Yo-Yo was years ahead of our society in valuing diversity and inclusion.  Leaving Franklin, she returned to New York City where she was a force to be reckoned with at NBC.  She might have already been diagnosed with cancer when she agreed to serve as a trustee for Franklin College.  That’s Yo-Yo.  

Various relatives of mine have asked me over the years why my wife and I stayed at a small college rather than move on to a bigger institution.  And over those years, I’ve responded in a number of ways to the question, but this year’s Homecoming provided the best answer.  As I listened to how Yo-Yo lived her life, as so many alums told me about careers centered on helping others, I understood the value of a small college, where one knows as one is known.  

My wife and I stayed at this little gem of a small liberal arts college for one overriding reason.  Here we were given the chance to play a part in the lives of students, so many of whom have gone on to lives of service to their communities.  We wouldn’t have missed those stories for the world.