Spirituality on the College Campus
The other day, Petya had an invite from a Public Ivy College to sit in on an Advanced Russian class. Students would be giving their Oral Presentations before Finals. We weren’t quite sure what that meant, but he and his father were excited about sitting-in.
Why they didn’t want me there, I don’t know, maybe it was a guy thing. Why the Italian side of the family was going to Russian class, rather than the Russian side of the family was anyone’s guess. But after so many years of wedded bliss, I knew that Benedetto could hold his own in any situation and I had the utmost confidence in him. Meanwhile, I drove around in the SUV with the other kids and dogs, thinking up fun diversions for three hours while the two guys attended Russian and also Global History, whose head of the department had also invited him.
They followed my map to a “T” which thrilled me, because, as everyone knows, you can obtain your Ph.D. in a subject, but if you can’t figure out how to read to a map, you’ll be in dire straits most of your life. Running from Global History to Advanced Russian required traversing half of the campus in less than ten minutes, after chatting with the history professor, so make that five minutes.
Entering the appointed building and room, the Russian professor, a young Asian lady with long, dark hair in jeans, greeted them, and they took their places near the back. About 15-18 students were there, a few readying themselves to give formal, oral presentations, as their turns came up.
She called on the first student of four who would be presenting today. In skinny jeans and black t-shirt, wearing a blue flannel shirt about two sizes too small over that, and black, high-top sneakers with wire-rim glasses, he appeared to possibly be an art student. He brought his typewritten page in Russian, folded and placed oddly under his arm, to which he glanced repeatedly, while pacing back and forth and talking, not looking at the class. From what the guys could determine, the students were supposed to have their presentations memorized.
He spoke on what the holidays meant to him, sharing that he was a minister’s son, and that his fond memories include life revolving around the church. Decorated for the holidays, with candles and colors, his family and his faith were paramount. Benedetto and Petya glanced at each other, eyebrows raised, a refreshing perspective that one didn’t always encounter on secular college campuses.
The next presenter was a young lady, one of only two in the entire class, wearing pink plaid shorts, ankle boots, a white shirt, green windbreaker, and a purple floppy hat. The guys felt that she spoke the best of all, no ummms, no hesitations, fairly flowing Russian. She was animated and actually connected with her audience. Her talk centered again on family and food, how her parents always made the holidays special for the kids.
Benedetto sensed that these students were much younger emotionally than their college years, or that their memories took them back to a younger sense of self. He liked it. Nobody moaned about having to be with their families, full of eccentric characters for the holidays. But then they weren’t part of his family growing up….
Another student sat in the front row, one of the few in the class with a haircut that actually had a part and was combed. He ate during most of the class, from a two-sided styrofoam container looking to contain curry and rice. Inbetween presentations, he walked out to toss his trash.
Father looked at son, and son shrugged. Both knew full-well they’d get booted out of homeschool for similar behavior, which by the way, has always been the rub for me: how do you boot out homeschooled kids? They get out of doing school (???) and you still need to feed them at breakfast, lunch, and dinner? Something’s wrong with that picture.
Presenter #3 sported a regular-sized, green flannel shirt, jeans, plastic-rim, rectangular glasses, and a white shirt. He dutifully turned in his typewritten Russian sheet, which the professor scanned as he spoke to the class. The student stood leaning against the blackboard, one foot behind him with its sole on the wall. He talked of being a born-again Christian, of how the birth of the Savior overshadowed all else this holiday season.
“Did he just say he was born-again?” father asked son, unsure if he understood enough Russian to understand… what he thought he understood.
“Dah,” Petya nodded, absorbed in the talk.
As the student wrapped up his presentation and fielded Q&A as all of them had done, in rushed Presenter #4—a half an hour late, and more than a few rubles short. In the same uniform of jeans, sneakers, t-shirt, this one had a shaved/stubble haircut.
The professor glanced up at his arrival and he motioned with his finger and hand, faking a shot to his brain. He sat down and the teacher promptly called on him, asking if he was ready to make his presentation. He rose and made his way to the front, tripping over a desk, kicking it out of the way, and mumbling, “Six hours of memorizing and I don’t know a single word!”
Six hours? As in overnight? As in “Didn’t he know for months or weeks that he had this assignment pending?”
“No!” I responded as my guys recounted the events of the afternoon.
“Yes!” they said in unison.
The professor tried to save him from himself.
“Would you like to postpone this presentation to another day? Maybe you’ll be having a better day then.”
The class ended early due to this fellow, allowing Benedetto and Petya time to chat in Russian with the instructor. She was flabbergasted at Petya’s level of fluency after 8.5 years home, not to mention that my husband could make a nice exchange of pleasantries, too. Petya answered her questions of where he was born, the climate there, and how long he’d lived in the U.S.
“You have done him an extreme service,” she acknowledged. “Keeping up the Russian will help him all thoughout life.”
Petya caught many of the grammatical mistakes the other students made with their endings on words that should have been declined. I caught some of his when he typed up a thank you e-mail in Russian, and in turn, the dog would probably play clean-up if I overlooked something.
Not that either father nor son heard from all of the students, but they were led to believe that Petya might be the only native-born son in the crowd. Hard to say. Petya looks pretty American, too. They noticed that practically every student wore glasses (“It’s the Cyrillic alphabet,” I explained later. “It makes you go blind with every hook and curl meaning something.”) and jeans. Each presenter on this Public Ivy campus had a love for their families and their faith.
So it seems that spirituality will always be alive where there are thinking minds and open hearts, even in the case of those who need to be rescued from themselves and their incomplete presentations, and are no doubt, uttering a prayer of thanks on college campuses worldwide, for miracles great and small.
————–Tags: college student talk about God, highschooler visitng college class, homeschooler visits college campus, Russian language class in university, spirituality on secular college campuses