In the spring, I was in the airport to take a flight to Charleston, Illinois, where my alma mater Eastern Illinois University (EIU) is located. I’ve returned to campus twice since graduating: Once to received the Distinguished Alumna Award from the University and now to receive the Outstanding Alumna Award from the Graduate School and the Department of Student Development. It is beyond anything I could have imagined while a student at EIU.
The first recognition was the same month and year I came to NASPA, I believe. When I made remarks at the celebration, I remember referencing how bittersweet the homecoming was. The bitter was when I reflected on being a student at the University at a time when I did not feel welcome and counted. I had the temerity to be there because the courts said I had that right.
This time the visit had no bitter. Only sweet. Two African American graduate students took me on a tour of the campus and everywhere I looked, there was racial diversity and students all looked as if they belonged at EIU. The progress made helped me think of all the benefits I have enjoyed as a graduate.
Other alums who were recognized spoke of faculty who had a profound impact on their lives. I talked about the incredible experiences in which I learned that I could be given responsibilities and be expected to do well. It is because of EIU and the support and encouragement of student activities advisers that I have had the confidence necessary to face and overcome challenges. I don’t remember their names or their faces, but I will always remember what they gave me in character and skill development.