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John Green '00 makes an alma mater pilgrimage back to Kenyon College and relives the memories and musings of life on The Hill. |
I woke around seven on a Saturday morning in a hotel and immediately saw this photograph of Ascension Hall which could only mean that I had found myself in Gambier, Ohio, home to my Alma mater, Kenyon College. Gambier is not the world's largest city -- it's downtown contains a grocery store, a restaurant, and a bookstore -- although to be fair, books and food will take you a long way in this life. So I found my way to Middle Path, the central artery of Kenyon's campus, which features this little post thing that everyone touches, and even though I'm germaphobic and I knew that this had been touched by thousands of flu-ridden, unwashed collegiate kids on their way to Thanksgiving Break, I touched it anyway. I was visiting Gambier with my wife (not pictured), my son (pictured here showcasing his somersaulting skills), and my friend Shannon, whom I met at Kenyon, and who now works to protect neglected and abused kids in Chicago. But this morning I just wanted to be alone, and there's no place on God's green Earth quieter than a college campus at eight on a Saturday morning, so I visited my freshman dorm and Old Kenyon, where I lived as a junior, I visited the cruciform church that I imagined as the setting for much of my book, The Fault in Our Stars, and I visited the bookstore, where I first bought Might Magazine and David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest and Zadie Smith's White Teeth. I was delighted that a) there is a Kenyon Quidditch team, and b) they have a not-insignificant collection of my own books now. At last, I made it to Ascension Hall, one of Kenyon's most Hogwartsian buildings, which is really saying something. I hadn't been here in a decade, but I found myself walking through the classrooms and remembering. Here is where I studied creative writing with the great P. F. Kluge and Islam and Central Asia with Professor Shuboul. Here was my four-student class on Ulysses with Professor McMullen. This was the setting for Professor Lentz's American Literature overview, and here is where I took approaches to the study of religion with Don Rogan, who inspired much of the character of the old man in my first novel, Looking for Alaska. Then I went up to the fourth floor to film some promos for the college -- this room is usually a study lounge, one where quiet is so revered that not only are cell phones banned but so too is water fountain slurping? But today it was a video shoot. Afterwards, I visited several of my professors, but I didn't film that stuff because it felt too personal. At Kenyon, my professors weren't just teachers -- they were mentors whom I still greatly admire. They helped me become a writer at Kenyon, but more importantly, they helped me to become at least a semblance of a grown-up. Then I had lunch at the genuinely excellent Gambier Deli, met up with my family, and walked down the hill to visit the old man. The old man didn't just grade my papers when I was at Kenyon -- he and his wife Sally had me over for dinner regularly, we read poems together, he was my friend and counselor and he was also very acutely aware of the debts I owed him. One time right after I graduated, Professor Rogan choked on something and I gave him the Heimlich Maneuver, saving his life, and when he recovered, the first thing he said, the very first thing, was, "Well John, I guess you owe me one less." It was true -- I did owe him a lot, and I guess one Heimlich Maneuver doesn't even the score. I'm still trying to pay him back, really. In short, I know nostalgia's in the business of twisting memory into lies and that there are lots of great colleges and universities, but let's face it, Kenyon is the best one. Thanks for watching.