Over the weekend, one of my college classmates (that’s you, Jon!) posted on Facebook a quick little remembrance of our graduation day from Valparaiso University on May 17, 1981. Of course, the mere mention of that time triggered a bout of nostalgia, a chronic condition that is both my blessing and curse.
Now, I wasn’t actually at our Commencement, which is how the seemingly random inclusion of this grainy snapshot of Lucerne, Switzerland figures into the story. I had finished up my undergraduate career with a spring semester abroad in Cambridge, England, and I was spending three weeks traveling on the European continent with my friends. My graduation day was spent with fellow VU sojourners David, Joanne, and Liana in Lucerne, where we took a boat ride and finished up the day with dinner at a waterside café, from where I snapped this photo.
Study abroad was a very different experience back in the day. No Internet, e-mail, or smartphones. Our primary connection to friends & family back home was the postal service, which made the daily mail delivery an important event. As study abroad sites go, England is about as safe & secure as they come, but we truly felt like we were on a foreign adventure.
My biggest technological novelty was an ATM card from a local British bank. I didn’t own a credit card. In the house designated as the residence for men, our music system was a small portable cassette player that my friend Don had “borrowed” from the office of the school newspaper back at VU, where we both had spent many hours as collegiate news scribes.
As I noted last fall in a remembrance of my years at Valparaiso, that semester abroad was the most formative educational experience of my life. I know I’m not alone with this sentiment. Since 1991, our study abroad group has held reunions every five years, and each time over half of our group has attended. (In addition to the aforementioned study abroad classmates, they have included Anne, Hilda, and Kathy, who also subscribe to this blog!)
Looking at that photo and applying rose-colored glasses, it’s easy to lapse into thinking of those days as being carefree and without anxiety, softened by images of vagabonding around Europe. Truth is, I was full of uncertainties and very much a work in progress. I had sufficient wisdom back then to know that I was very, very fortunate to have that study abroad experience, but my inner focus was impatiently and continually on the future and what it might bring.
I’ve reached the age where the fading old Kodak snapshots from my semester abroad look like something from another era, and for good reason. It really was long ago and far away when I celebrated my college graduation with friends at that Lucerne café. For nostalgic beings like me, I’ll take it as a memory to be treasured.