Friday Flashback: Davidson College

I can’t explain how stoked I was to be accepted. I applied early admission, and I still remember opening the letter in the parking lot of my mom’s office and jumping about 3 feet in the air. Ok, ok. More like 4 inches in the air, but still. My brother and sister-in-law and her whole family pretty much are Davidson alums, so I was proud of myself for being one of the 400 or so applicants to get accepted. But… well. It didn’t quite work out.

My defense mechanisms have surely blocked out a lot of the experience from my conscious recall… you know in combination with some other things. But here’s a choppy summary of my time as a Davidson Wildcat.

First, I should track down my roommate John and apologize. We didn’t run in the same circles on campus, but he was a fabulous person! I, on the other hand, was a slob and likely an inconsiderate roomy. Davidson, at the time, still had a laundry service for the students. I would put my number, it was 435, on the tags of my clothes, take them to the laundry, and in a day or two I could pick them up in a brown paper bag all folded and nice.

My problem was that I would put the wrapped sack of clothes on the couch, tear open the top and then just grab clothes out when I needed. Or maybe I at least put them on my bed. Either way, I did a lot of sleeping on that couch and in that bed. I don’t think I was overly messy or rude otherwise, but yeah, sorry John.

I wish I could remember more about the classes I took. I got in on the Humanities track and I do remember a bit about my humanities prof who picked Genesis and other books of the bible apart. Growing up in the CleveCo bubble, that was quite a shock to the mental system–good for me in so many ways, but still took me for a spin out of the gate. I know I had a history class, but can’t remember much about it. I do remember Dr. Henke who I had for German and for a class called Nazi Culture. Those classes were fascinating. My crowning achievement was in Freshman Comp in which I earned a B+. That was the most rewarding grade I’ve ever gotten in all my years. Overall, in the first semester I ended up with a 2.5 GPA, which was around average at Davidson College. All night study sesh’s were not uncommon on campus. Rigor is a real thing at DC.

I did get in on the fraternity scene. Sigma Phi Epsilon to be precise. There were a couple of guys on the hall that pledged with me, Ryan the water polo player from La Jolla was one of them. That dude used to always get 10 packets of ketchup to go with his fries. And one of our RA’s, Tripp, was a Sig Epper, so I’m sure that played an influence. I was actually chosen to be the Pledge Class President. We had some good times down at the house. Some too good. And Papa D was the chef for the house, which is primarily the reason I think I picked SPE in the first place. Those quesadillas he made late night were on point. I still remember the chant for the fraternity, but I never did make it to the end and full membership.

The sports scene was pretty cool. Basketball was really fun. I had a friend who was the point guard for the women’s team. Jen was from New Jersey, I think. And a friend named Lisa who played field hockey, so I went to see that too. I remember Landry Kosmalski for the Hoop Cats.

But yeah… I wasn’t ready. Or something. I was lonely and felt out of place. Most of the folks there called me Dan. Dan? Nah. I had a 2.5GPA first semester, but second semester I turned in a stellar 0.0. I’m not sure how many classes I actually went to in the second semester, but it wasn’t many. I didn’t show up much at my work study job either–even though those folks were so gracious to me. I would spend a lot of time driving my old raggedy ’86 mustang, Melba T, to Chapel Hill, Raleigh, and Wilmington, spending long weekends or more on my old boys’ couches or floors. Not a good recipe for success at any college. And then one night I called my mom and cried and pleaded for help. She didn’t bat an eye, and I was enrolled at Gardner-Webb the next fall. I still had some growing up to do there as well, but eventually I was saved by a former BRIO girl named Sarah.

I tell this story to my students. Well I tell them part of it. If I would’ve done what I was supposed to do, and attended classes, my life would’ve turned out completely different. That is not to say I am proud or glad that I failed. Flunked out. It took me a long time to be able to use those words to myself, much less to others. But I figured a way to get myself back up after it all, and now 25 years later I have my Sarah and Sam and Sydney and Isaac. I have a career I love and a pretty solid role in the community. I don’t advocate for failing. I don’t encourage wasting all the money and going through that darkness and fog that I went through.

But I learned from it. I am still learning from it. And I am where I am because of it. And that’s a real thing.

Postscript. I have been back to campus a few times in the last couple years for AP Government and Politics weeklong workshops. Each time I set foot on the grounds at Davidson I feel the magic. The history. The tradition. The excellence. The charm. The mystique. I love that place. I wonder how I would’ve measured up to it all. Either way, I am honored to have had even a short and not so productive time there. And I look forward to every time I get to visit.

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