I was in Winston-Salem this past weekend, visiting Kathryn and Chase, and decided to drop by Wake Forest for the first time since I graduated last May.  I went to the Catholic Community Mass in Davis Chapel, got roped into singing by Father Jude, and afterwards walked across the upper quad to my old office.  This particular episode from PhD Comics was still taped to the outside of the door, right where I’d left it ten months ago.

Wake Forest the campus no longer impresses me.  I remember as a first-year how over-awed I was.  How I described the brickwork as oozing money, and marveled at the absurd protectionism of the groundskeepers towards the lawns.  How I knew of an undergrad who had given his new girlfriend a tennis bracelet for Valentine’s, and others who drove Porsches and collectible BMW M3s.  How I saw girls who at times wore in excess of $1500 in clothing and accessories to class.

I’d known that a large number of people at Wake Forest were unhappy.  But being very unhappy myself, I noticed it less.  Being happy now, though, and coming back, the difference was more striking.  Looking out over the faces at Mass from my vantage in the choir, it was sad how few people were smiling.  How many folks looked down, looked inward, or were simply blank.  I know what the glazed eyes of self-preservation look like in a crew of Outward Bound students, and that’s what I saw on too many of these kids’ faces.

I remember when I used to wear that look.

It’s a dramatic juxtaposition with Chapel Hill.  There are plenty of unhappy people here, too, but there are also lots of very happy people.  There are some happy people at Wake, but not so many.  And very few of those are joyful.  Joy – joy is the thing.  I see a great deal of joy in Chapel Hill.  I do not see so much in Winston.  I hope there are plenty of folks who will disagree with me on this, especially Winston natives and others allied with the town.  But when I’m there, I have a hard time finding the spark.

Chase made an interesting point this evening when I mentioned my dismay over the faces on campus, the apparent lack of joy.  He said “But Nathan, people don’t come to Wake to have fun.  They come here to work, to succeed, and to advance.  They aren’t here just to have a good time.  Plenty of people go to Chapel Hill to have a good time.  And think about it – the towns are the same way.”

And I think he’s right.  I don’t know of anyone who moved to Winston because it sounded like such a happening place.  It’s nice, but I don’t think anyone would claim it’s got much bounce.  It moves slowly, methodically, and gets the job done.  A Southern industrial town buoyed by a hard-ass university.

I guess you get what you came for.  And it was exactly what I needed to realize that’s not what I want.  Back in Chapel Hill, heading back to the woods in April, I’m resting a whole, whole lot easier.

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