When I arrived home Monday night I listened to a voice mail from an earnest young man at St. John’s University who was calling to remind me that my class is celebrating its 15th reunion at the school’s upcoming homecoming festivities.
Members of the class of ’97 will gather in Collegeville to exchange stories about old professors and vomit-polluted evenings, all while showing off their two kids and pretty wives, most of whom graduated from St. Ben’s. Under sunny skies — because the heavens wouldn’t dare open up on a St. John’s football game, except perhaps during those seasons when they lose more than three games — the Johnnies will battle St. Olaf. At least 10,000 fans will attend the game, though the announced attendance will likely be extraordinarily, and, perhaps suspiciously specific, something like 11,876.
And I’ll be 1,500 miles away, holed up in an apartment in upper Manhattan, listening to the game on the Internet. I’ll miss the atmosphere and the scenery, the sights and the sounds. But I can’t say I’ll miss my old classmates. How could I? I never knew them.
On a recent podcast with Terry, I talked about my disconnect from my class at St. John’s, caused by the fact I transferred to the school after two years at Worthington Community College. I missed those first two years, when wide-eyed freshmen gather in the dorms and form connections and friendships that last a lifetime, at least according to the pamphlets. They bond over Johnnie Bread and dances, parties and tough classes. So I’m told — and imagine. I didn’t get any of that, arriving at the school as a junior who was placed in sophomore housing. Before my junior year started, I attended an orientation for new students, an event organized for those who have just left high school, not for students who graduated from it two years earlier. We broke off in to groups and sat in a circle. We played games led by excitable leaders. I don’t remember for sure, but we might have even played some variation of the trust game, falling back in a passing out motion and in to each other’s arms, perfect practice for the post-bar evenings to come.
When the head of the operation discovered I was actually a transfer, he apologized and said there was no need to be there. I skipped the rest of the events, spending my time wandering around the picturesque campus.
Living in a second-year dorm meant I roomed with a sophomore. The students my age were already in apartments. During my two years at SJU I certainly got to know other students from the Class of ’97. I took a couple of theology classes with the kid who spoke at our graduation ceremony, a young man who we all thought was even smarter than the Harvard-trained professor. We called him Jesus, but even the kid from Bethlehem would have struggled in a Bible trivia game against the guy from St. John’s. He was fascinating to listen to, but we weren’t friends. I cracked jokes in communications classes with a lazy student who could make me laugh, often with his slothful nature. Pretty much all of my friends at St. John’s graduated in 1998 and one of them, Mike, doesn’t really count as a Johnnie connection, since we have known each other going back to our days playing football on the playgrounds in elementary school at Janesville.
Today I’m in contact with only two guys I went to school with, Mike and…the other Mike, my other senior year roommate, himself a ’98 grad. I’m sure I’ve missed out on a lot by missing out on those connections I could have formed, whether as a freshman or even as a junior. It’s not St. John’s fault that I didn’t do a better job of being an active participant in the college life. I didn’t work for the school paper or join any clubs or seek out groups or even individuals. I played pickup basketball, video games and wrote 10-page papers the night before they were due. I lived in my room, the library and Rat Hall, instead of the bars of St. Joe’s. I don’t have regrets because I still had a great time at the school, but those lifetime connections so many students make during their time on campus? Nowhere to be seen — or called upon when I’m looking for a job.
Strangely, I’ve made friends with more Johnnies since graduating than I did when I attended school, thanks to messageboards devoted to Division 3 athletics, this site and my work with the St. John’s alumni magazine, which pays me to write stories about graduates who made a name for themselves in the real world but love nothing more than talking about the friends they made in Collegeville. My passion for SJU football has given me the chance to become friendly with a host of old Johnnies, some of whom wandered the campus long before I set foot on it, others who came long after I left it. Through this site I met a class of ’00’er, Tom Linnemann, and had the opportunity to get intoxicated on his expense account in New York City. I really felt that Johnnie connection, even if I couldn’t feel my limbs as the night progressed.
Another reason I don’t blame St. John’s? The same things are true for the people I went to school with at Worthington for two years. I remain friends with my college basketball coach and exchange emails with a teammate. The other people from the school I’m close to today? My aunt, uncle and two cousins.
So it’s not really a St. John’s thing and it’s not a Worthington thing. I still have many great memories of both places, even if my address book has few entries from either place. I won’t be missed by any members of the Class of ’97 who gather at St. John’s on September 29. The feeling’s mutual.
But it doesn’t mean I won’t miss the place.