Returning to my college stomping ground after three decades

Rick Wagner • Jan 2, 2018 at 1:12 PM

KNOXVILLE — If you want to feel old in your 50s, go to a college campus.

If you want to feel really old, go to one of those you used to attend. Trust me, I know.

My older son, Jonathan, is a senior and seeking his college future. It seems like only awhile back that he was in kindergarten at Jefferson Elementary School, then a sixth-grader at Robinson Middle and after that a freshman in the Dobyns-Bennett High School band.

He hasn’t chosen a college yet but has visited two: the Savannah College of Art and Design and the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, my alma mater. He also plans to visit Middle Tennessee State University and maybe some more colleges, but he’s been accepted by these three.

Campus visits 101

His mother went with him to visit the Atlanta campus of SCAD as well as the Savannah campus. I recently went with him to UT, which is where I was from 1982-87, taking five years to get my four-year journalism degree, although I started out as an undeclared liberal arts major. (I was offered the editor in chief position at The Daily Beacon and lacked a few required classes to graduate, so I signed on for my second senior year.)

At UT, I recognized Ayers Hall on The Hill and a few other buildings on campus, although Neyland Stadium is much slicker and more like a professional sports venue than I remember. Circle Park, which is where the journalism department was and is, was much the same, although we didn’t go inside. The library was 21st century for sure, and we learned from our tour guides that UT has the lowest printing cost in the Southeastern Conference, something like 3 cents a copy. It was about 10 cents in my day, so I guess that is progress. But in 1986, UT’s football team won the Sugar Bowl, so I guess it is a mixed verdict.

By the way, games were free for students back in the day. Now, students must pay, but only $10 per ticket, quite a bargain for an SEC game.

My old dorm, Greve Hall, has been turned into offices. We toured a model room in a residence hall built recently, and it was more like a hotel to me. Laundry is free now, and most rooms have their own bathroom or share one with another room. A few are left with community bathrooms, but none with 30 people sharing a community one like I did.

And of course there is air-conditioning, Wi-Fi and such. We had windows, steam heat and if the assistant head resident looked the other way, you could hook up your 300 baud computer modem to the rotary wall phone to sign on to a bulletin board. (Don’t ask how I know this, but I think it is too late for UT to take my diploma back.)

Walking tour

During what seemed to my legs to be a three-mile, all-uphill/up-stairs hike after a bus ride from the agriculture campus, we toured the new Student Union which replaced the old Student Center, the one where I first saw “Citizen Kane,” “The Graduate” and a host of other moves for $1 each. We walked everywhere, so the freshman 15 pounds didn’t really appear fully my freshman year.

We also toured an exercise and sports complex. Students can borrow canoes and all types of outdoorsy things, as well as use exercise equipment and of course swim.

But what about his future?

Of course this trip was supposed to be all about Jonathan, not me. As luck would have it, one of our tour guides is about to graduate with a double major, broadcasting and film. That’s more or less what my son wants as a major, although he is heavier on the film than the broadcasting, and UT’s film program is more cinema history than hands-on filmmaking.

I can protest all I want that he needs to be careful going into anything like journalism, such a low-stress, high-paying profession. (Yeah, I share a wry sense of humor with him.)

However, I remember my parents envisioned me as an engineer. I always liked architecture, and maybe I would have made an engineer, but writing was my passion, so I might as well go along with him having film and video as his potential career.

Anyway, MTSU and SCAD both have film programs, and he’s talked about UT and some other schools. Something one of the guides said sort of struck me: No matter where you choose to go to school, you need for it to be a good fit for you and vice versa. I think I found that in Big Orange Country. I hope he finds that wherever he goes.

Quiz: What does my son plan for his college major?

Bonus question: What was my major before I went into journalism?

Rick Wagner is the education writer for the Kingsport Times-News and can be reached at rwagner@timesnews.net or (423) 392-1381.