A few weeks before Christmas, I found myself in a hamburger shop in Flagstaff, Ariz., and caught a glimpse of what my life might have been like.
Surrounding me were sunburned skiers, a few older locals and a small crowd of Northern Arizona University (NAU) students. Forget their appearance for the time being: their aura itself was fascinating. In some ways, they seemed like regular college kids. They were chatting, occasionally glancing at their cell phones and eating their cheap food.
The one thing they did not do, however, was greet the other groups of students. It seemed like each group of two or three people was completely in its own world, not acknowledging the presence of its classmates.
“Why aren’t they saying ‘hi’ to one another? Where is their sense of community? I’m so glad I didn’t go here,” I found myself thinking about the students from NAU.
Now, NAU, being a state school, obviously has more students than the University of Dallas, so its students are less likely to know one another than the students at UD. Thus, just seeing another NAU student at a fast food joint is not as unusual as it would be here at UD, where I greet my peers, acquaintances or even a familiar Crusader almost every time I see them at a restaurant or grocery store.
These thoughts came back to me when a couple of UD students I know returned to campus to talk to some of us who are still students.
Hunter Johnson (B.A. ’15) and Claire Ballor (B.A. ’15) met a few student journalists in Gorman Faculty Lounge for a presentation on their chosen profession: journalism.
Ballor, wearing a black suitcoat and heels, spoke first, as Johnson stood in the background. Ballor gave tips on reporting, and Johnson spoke about editing and structuring. They finished their workshop (in predictable UD alumni fashion) with a Tolstoy quote, and asked the attendees to take their business cards so they could stay in touch. Ballor and Johnson then gave a few final tips on how to land a job in newspaper.
Having a tight-knit community is a great thing for a school to have, according to admissions. But does it affect anything else beyond attracting wide-eyed high schoolers to UD?
Ballor said she came back to campus to share her knowledge because, as an undergrad, there were very few alumni in the world of journalism to mentor them. Because Ballor and Johnson, who now both work at the Dallas Morning News, lacked many alumni connections in the sphere of journalism, already a small department at a very small university, they struggled to find jobs at mainstream news organizations.
Their visit was their way of giving back so that current students do not have to face the same difficulties.
I know that NAU, like other large universities, has plenty of alumni who give back to the school in some way. The feeling, however, of being given a former peer’s business card, along with offers to help you in your path to gainful employment, is the best gift a recent graduate can give a university student.
This is why the UD community matters.