Sunday, August 30, 2009

College Friendships

I am sure that many of those who could not take part in the three days of events memorializing the passing of Senator Ted Kennedy watched part of the services on television and followed the coverage in the press. The timing of his death and funeral coincided with many colleges and universities in the Boston and New England area beginning the new academic year with the freshmen being the first to move into their dorm rooms. Even at Senator Kennedy's memorial service and funeral, his Harvard college room-mate, Mr. John Culver, took part. The poignancy of the memorial and funeral services brought back many memories.

Plus, last week I was in Chicago (and both our Governor, Deval Patrick, and our President, Barack Obama, most recently hail from Chicago) where I got to take part in a conference and also to see one of my best friends from Brown University days, Mary Eng, and her family. Noone who goes to college can forget the day of really "growing up" when one is left at one's dorm, meets one's room-mate, and is then on one's own to take advantage of all the great things and special experiences that college brings.

I'll never forget moving into my Pembroke dorm at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island and knowing only a fellow classmate from Yonkers High School and my cousin. But, luckily, friendships were quickly made and ties established through dorm life, cafeteria food, courses, sports, extracurricular interests, studying in the libraries, and other activities (including riding Amtrak to/from NYC for holidays which Mary and I enjoyed a lot, sometimes even sitting in the aisles or between train cars since the cars were so filled).

College is an experience like no other and the friendships made there last a lifetime. Brown was very special (indeed, I must have liked it a lot to have earned 4 degrees from Brown but why I stayed through my PhD would merit a separate blog post). I remember my first day at Brown like only yesterday and the same for my "last" day at Brown when I received my PhD. That same day John F. Kennedy Jr. received his undergraduate degree from Brown and I remember seeing his mother, Jackie Kennedy Onassis (and my mother was so thrilled to see her, too). When Dr. Drew Gilpin Faust was selected to be President of Harvard University, I was a Science Fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard, and she was then its Dean. We had a special celebration in her honor that Spring of 2006 and Caroline Kennedy attended and I told her how her brother and I had the "same" graduation day from Brown. Of course, you may recall how John F. Kennedy Jr. died tragically with his wife and sister-in-law in a plane crash in a plane he was flying.

So, I say to all the students who are starting new chapters of their lives as college students to make the most of those very special years. There are few people besides your family members who will know you as well as the friends that you make in college.