Walter Mencken 9:21 p.m., Oct. 20
- Community Blog
SDSU and Me
This university has loomed large with me from the earliest days of my life. Dad was starting on a master’s degree in education at “State College” at the time I was born, and recalls me crawling around restlessly on the floor in the spring of 1956 while mom hurriedly typed up his thesis as he prepared for graduation.
Growing up in our little house on the east side of College Avenue, I'd watch from the front window as several generations of college students made their way to the campus each morning. They seemed the epitome of “cool” to an elementary school kid. Toward the end of second grade, I stood near the corner of El Cajon Boulevard and College Avenue to watch John Kennedy’s motorcade make its way to the campus, where he delivered the commencement address for the class of 1963. The father of a childhood friend was a professor at State, and my friend appeared in the newspaper the next day shyly shaking the president’s hand.
My Boy Scout troop, sponsored by the Presbyterian church on the edge of the campus, was made up largely of the sons of professors at the university and a number of Convair employees. The troop had an excellent outdoor program, and the adults had some fascinating discussions around the campfire during weekend trips and our weeklong 50 mile trek in the Sierras each summer.
Crawford High School played its home football games at Aztec Bowl, and it was there that our 1973 graduation ceremony was held. I was long familiar with the campus by then, having often ridden my bicycle around it with the other kids after scout meetings and discovered the Malcolm Love Library as a neat place to study and think even before I was out of junior high.
After raising us as a stay-at-home mom, my mother went to work at CSUSD--as it was called for a time in the early ‘70s--as the secretary of the School of Social Work. She was there full-time until retirement. During a rare holiday season at home in the late '80s, I recall accompanying her to the campus to deliver dinner to the small Campus Police contingent, including my brother-in-law, who had drawn duty on Christmas night.
From the early ‘70s to the mid ‘90s, I myself spent little time in my hometown due to military service and teaching jobs abroad. Yet I returned long enough to complete the coursework for a master’s degree with the then-small but excellent Linguistics Department. Even that was split by a year in Peru with CSU International Programs. My post-secondary education had its interruptions, but I got it done--thesis and all--in a reasonable amount of time.
Now I own a couple of rental properties in the area, and my tenants are… SDSU graduate students.
In October of last year, I attended a regional conference for teachers of English as a Second Language on the SDSU campus. Though still a frequent user of Love Library, I seldom have reason to visit other areas of the campus and it was a nostalgic return. The plenary address for the conference was given by a professor emeriti who had served as a thesis advisor and mentor to countless of the conference participants. Still energetic and full of ideas, her address was very warmly received, and made me realize in a profound way that I still have a lot of living to do and ought to make the most of it.
On the other hand, standing on the west side of Storm Hall at the end of the day, I looked toward a spot where I know there is a stone marker and plaque designating the exact location where President Kennedy's helicopter lifted off after Commencement 1963. It occurred to me in that moment that in the past decade or so, to paraphrase the president, the torch has been passed to a new generation, building on what has come before even though much of SDSU's current faculty and staff had not even yet been born at the time of Kennedy's visit.