Lasting impressions

Katie Rice and friendsBy Katie Rice, ‘10

CONWAY, Ark. (Nov. 28, 2006) – Fresh back from St. Louis with my Thanksgiving meal probably still not fully digested, I’m down to my last two weeks at Hendrix College before Winter Break. Finals are approaching, the pressure is on, but I still can’t help being happy to be at Hendrix. My original exuberance has been tempered slightly by reality (the “demanding yet supportive” atmosphere, for example, gets less fun when the demanding part starts to impact my grades or my sleep), but my fuller understanding of Hendrix still leaves me more than impressed.

I knew Hendrix had a beautiful campus, but it never occurred to me how important I would find it. In combination with the pretty fantastic fall weather, the gorgeous buildings and beautiful landscaping make it much easier to avoid the winter doldrums. Walking outside in Arkansas is usually a treat, not a pain. It’s often nice enough to study outside and rarely gross enough to prevent me from studying in the smattering of nice, quiet places around campus. The campus is also compact, which is an incalculable plus when the weather does turn rainy or cold.

The Hendrix Odyssey Program was also something whose value I underestimated. In three days, I will have completed my first Odyssey experience, an Artistic Creativity  project. After seeing posters advertising National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) plastered around campus throughout October, I decided that a chaotic, caffeine-fueled month of writing nearly 2,000 words a day (50,000 words, about 175 pages, in total) was exactly what I needed. Once I realized I could get Odyssey credit for the experience, the deal was sealed. I wrote a one-page proposal, asked a creative writing professor I had never met before to be my sponsor, and was soon well on my way to the NaNoWriMo winner’s circle. Now, 41,000 words later, I’m in the home stretch. Without the promise of Odyssey credit, it would have been much easier for me to push the novel to the back of my priorities and eventually give up on the idea.

While some students debate the academic value of Journeys, the philosophy course all freshmen take first semester, I don’t think I can understate the value of having something in common with every single one of your classmates. The day before a paper is due, the chorus around campus is, “Hey, have you written your Journeys paper yet?” In between papers and tests, it’s “Have you finished Augustine yet?” or “How’s the Qur’an going for you?” I think having something to say to your peers besides “Hi. I don’t know you” really opens up potential friendships. Seeing the same set of faces four days a week (three times in Journeys, plus once in Explorations) also can’t hurt.

Last weekend, I had three friends come visit from a huge state school a few hours away.  They were absolutely astonished when people greeted each other on the walkways or called out each other’s names.  One of my friends finally said, “When I walk across campus, I sometimes look at the faces of the people I pass and think, ‘It’s likely I will never see that person again in my college career.’”  Although there are hundreds of people here I still haven’t met, Hendrix will never be that impersonal.

As my friends and I packed our suitcases and said goodbye last week, there was a recurring feeling of, “Hey, I’m really going to miss these people who I didn’t even know three months ago.” As we reminisced, trying to recall how we all met, one of the girls finally said what we were all thinking: “I don’t think other places are like this.”  Other schools have required freshman intro classes.  Other schools have small, residential college atmospheres. But there’s a little something extra here that I can’t put my finger on. Another girl may have nailed it when she said, “People here smile at each other. When I was a prospective, I could tell that I felt comfortable talking to the students; they didn’t just look past or pretend I didn’t exist. That’s when I decided to come to Hendrix.”

I think she’s right. In between homework and novel writing, at lunch and during well-deserved study breaks, the soul of the campus makes itself apparent. I’ve passed my time talking in the Burrow about the worst kisses ever, playing in the crunchy fallen leaves, and finding costumes for theme parties. It couldn’t be more evident that Hendrix students, though they take their academics seriously, are far from stuffy and completely removed from cut-throat competition.

I’ll let you in on a secret, now: I very nearly didn’t come to Hendrix. I had never sat in on a class or taken a campus tour when, on March 30, I finally made up my mind and express-mailed my deposit. I came because it was warm, and because Loren Pope (author of Colleges That Change Lives) told me it would change my life. Now that I’ve sat through months of classes, walked through the campus day in and day out, and seen my life changed, I don’t think anything could take me away from this place even a day early.

(Katie Rice of St. Louis, Mo. is a student-writer in the Hendrix Communications Office. This is the second in a series of articles she is writing on her first-year impresssions. Find her first month impressions at http://www.hendrix.edu/eventsnews/eventsnews.aspx?id=6586)

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Media contact: Judy Williams, 501/450-1462, williams@hendrix.edu