I loved my college experience. Loved it.
I know a private Christian university isn’t for everyone, and you wouldn’t think an 18 year old whom had never had a curfew and had very lenient parents would choose to attend a school where many policies were considered antiquated. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, I know. While the fact that I suddenly had a curfew and I learned you could get fined for virtually anything did shock my senses, I loved my time at that little Baptist university.
I was a Resident Assistant, which meant I had to enforce the rules (but I also knew how to better break them), and I was located right in the heart of campus, so I knew a whole lot of people. Freshmen are the heartbeat of a university such as ETBU; their enthusiasm and willingness to make friends is often contagious. They don’t have the pressure of being in the thick of their respective majors yet, and they also go just a little bit crazy at the idea of freedom. Many of them were easing their transitions from a very conservative and often strict home, and the idea that they could stay out until 1:30 am on the weekends was exhilarating. It makes me smile just thinking about it.
Being a part of a choir as good as ETBU’s was one of the highlights of my time there. Singing in the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, with the Moscow Chamber Orchestra is probably the most amazing experience I had in college. More than anything, my time in the music department at that little university took a girl who was in love with singing but terrified of her own ability, and molded me into a person who feels more confident in music than I have been in many years. They taught me how to read music, how to appreciate classical music (and the fact that “classical” is a subgenre within the genre), and how to truly listen to a piece of well-crafted music.
What really shaped my life at East Texas Baptist University, was not the campus life or the social aspect (although they were good to me). It was the faculty and staff that comes with being a part of a smaller university that truly cares about its students. I was very fortunate to make personal connections with some of the adults on the campus. They were always willing to sit down and get into a deep discussion with anyone who truly cared to learn more. I’ll never forget the time that I sat down with Allan Thompson in the Chick-fil-A cafeteria and we discussed concentric circles of faith. His passion for missions and getting your hands dirty — working hard to show people grace and goodness — rivaled anything I have ever known. I spent hours in Dr. Claire Rodgers’ office, discussing our Oklahoma roots, music, theory, and life. She made me feel like I was back at home for just a little while. More than anyone else, I spent so many afternoons talking to Dr. Bruce Tankersley. Sometimes you just find a kindred spirit. I used to be terrified of him in class! He had a well-deserved reputation for making you work for your grade. He challenged you. He often taught in front of his desk, not behind it. He moved with a restless energy, as though the words he spoke were vibrating with life itself. As a believer in Jesus Christ, I would say they pulsed with Life, as I find it impossible to speak of Jesus without excitement. You also never knew when he was going to tap on your shoulder and call you out for an answer (again I say, terrifying!).
I don’t know exactly what it was that led me into his office that first time. Was it a grade? Or to tell him that something he said personally convicted me? I’ll never remember. All I know was that the minutes turned into hours. We would talk about music often, and I remember him lending me the musical score to Les Miserables. “You must listen to it,” he insisted. It changed my world. I felt as though anything was possible, when we talked. I was no longer limited by money, or fear, or familial obligations. I could go to seminary — and I could do well! I never thought myself capable of a master’s degree before. There were times I wished I could have counted him as family.
It’s a precious and rare thing to connect to a person. We search our whole lives for meaningful connection, to feel safe in the company of another. People who understand you and allow you to dream allows your ideas to take flight. It lifts your soul, right here on our own little piece of pavement. These moments carry you through until you connect again, like a musical interlude — these ribbons of hope and faith that you are, indeed, meaningful.
To hear, “You are special.”
This is priceless.
I met back up with Dr. Tankersley this past week. His walk may have been a little slower, but he has the same kind eyes I remember almost ten years ago. We lingered over soup and caught up with each other’s lives and the news of this past decade. It will be one of the most special memories I will carry with me from now on. I am extraordinarily lucky to have had my experiences at ETBU. They have carried over long past my days as a student, but the feeling of promise still lingers.
If you ever read this Bruce, thank you. Thank you for making me believe I could do anything.