As the spring semester begins, I ask why it is so great to return to campus after break. Some may point to the increase in activity that comes with the college life, the rekindling of close friendships, the excitement of starting a new semester or the eventful lifestyle across the street from campus.
I would propose that a deeper spirit within these aspects of our university that draws us back after vacation. Such parts of the University of Dallas are what make up our “locus amoenus” in the middle of Irving.
This Latin phrase, a literary term describing a “pleasant spot,” has been used since the ancient works of Virgil and Horace, through Dante’s “Paradiso” and the Renaissance poetry of Fray Luis de León, to the beloved Shire in J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings.” Usually, this oasis is described as a verdant, beautiful, peaceful place. Green pastures, rolling hills and calm streams fill these areas.
UD may not seem too verdant during the blazing summer heat or the sporadic winter, and the running joke of UD being one of the top schools on the list of ugliest college campuses may have some truth to it. We all know as well that UD is not too tranquil on Thursday nights after 9.
The locus amoenus of UD is not so physically superficial. The people and the community that they form, rather, compose our locus amoenus.
Verdancy can be found in the friendships that thrive on campus across ages and groups. Our campus is beautiful on a pleasant day when students and faculty enjoy thoughtful discussion on the open Mall or in the Cap Bar. Peace comes in the faith community that binds us together in our weakness.
Even if they are not immediately visible, these characteristics make UD what it is. Without the faculty, staff and students, UD is only an exhibition of 1950s architecture, instead of a place where one can find plentiful profound relationships. Excellent people, with higher perspectives, pursuing truth, goodness and beauty make this place so unique.
Still, there remains the perpetual question of the value of the Bubble. Does it shield students from the real world too much, or does it foster a virtuous environment for students to grow before they enter the real world?
I remember a debate in the newspaper between Dr. Greg Roper and Fr. Thomas Esposito in which both perspectives were presented. Dr. Roper proposed that we students should not be confined by the Bubble, but go and profess the truth to the world, rather like Dominicans. Fr. Thomas countered, maybe a little biased by his monastic lifestyle, that we students must be like the Cistercians and first grow virtue and friendship in our own small community before sharing them with the world. Both present valid points, demonstrating the dynamic nature of our locus amoenus. We must cherish it, but not remain in it.
Although the outsiders have destroyed our Shire in the woods, one can still find plenty of locus amoeni on campus. Do not forget to retreat to these pleasant spots throughout the year. A new semester can bring plenty of stresses, distractions and temptations. During such times, we need reflection, friendships and prayer to dispel the negative parts of our lives.
In the end, the real reason we come back to UD is not only to spend more time with ourselves, but more importantly to encounter brilliant faculty, supportive friends and our loving God. We find these relationships in our own locus amoenus at UD.