Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Reminiscing about Virginia Tech

All of the coverage of the atrocities at Virginia Tech reminded me of my time there. I majored in English. I started out in biology, didn't particularly care for science, took a Shakespeare class, and then decided to major in English, not pleasing my parents especially, but they soon accepted it. I simply wanted a good education in the humanities, which in retrospect you cannot get at any public school anymore, but I didn't know that at the time. To get a solid education, you really need to attend a conservative Catholic college, such as Christendom or Franciscan. But the experience at Tech was fun.

Virginia Tech is an absolutely stunning campus with the old Hokie stone buildings and the huge open Drill Field that has tons of students playing frisbee, soccer, flying kites, etc. in the beautiful spring and summer weather. In the winter, Blacksburg becomes Bleaksburg, with the brutal nonstop wind and harsh weather. A thought on every student's mind on a cold winter morning in bed is the dread of having to cross the drill field with the frigid wind.
My final year at Tech I had a Milton class where a fellow student had taught English in Korea. I thought that would be a great way to see the world and travel in Asia (I had already had extensive experience in Europe) and I ended up with a job with the EPIK program. I ended up staying in Korea for five years in Daegu. While there I received a second degree in Asian Studies from classes I took in University of Maryland Asian Division.

Since then I have generally only listed my Asian Studies major on my resume and I only mentioned it in my profile of this blog: (1) I felt a little embarrassed in retrospect that I had majored in English; I felt like I had wasted my parents' money and (2) I had a pathetic GPA there (Did I mention how fun Blacksburg is?).

When I actually had to pay for my classes as I did in Korea with University of Maryland and was working at the same time, I worked much harder. Also the real world experience--living and working in Asia, as well as the military and spouses who were my classmates--made for a much more enriching and productive experience academically. I took a combination of classes at Camp Walker in Daegu and Distance Education classes from various professors based around Asia. In short, I had a 3.8 and felt much more proud of my accomplishment at University of Maryland. After leaving Korea for in 2002, I lived in Bangkok, Thailand and received a great education both on Northeast Asia and Southeast Asia.

The coverage of Virginia Tech has made me, though, look back at what a wonderful, peaceful, and idyllic place Blacksburg is. It is located 2200 feet above sea level on a plateau between the Blue Ridge and Allegheny Mountains. The Eastern continental divide goes right through Blacksburg, with the northern part of the town draining in the Roanoke River basin and the southern part into the New River Basin that flows into the Ohio. I remember hiking in the gorgeous mountains, roaming around the quaint downtown area, meeting friends and professors, playing tennis, etc. Blacksburg and Virginia Tech are places you never want to leave. For the last three years I lived in an old house just behind the Newman House on Wall Street, the one way street connecting the campus to the 7-11. My day usually consisted a simple routine of going to class, daily mass at the Drill Field War Memorial Chapel at 4:30, eating dinner with friends, studying, meeting friends in the evenings and weekend. I would spend my summers in Blacksburg with the beautiful mountain climate and the many outdoor activities.

I don't recall having classes in Norris Hall, but I did have several French classes in the Hall adjoining Norris. I cannot imagine at all what it must have felt like for the victims to be peacefully studying French, German, engineering, and then have a gunman enter and begin shooting your professor and fellow classmates. It is too cruel a thought to think of the suffering. It is devastating looking at the list of promising lives that were cut short by the killer.

My thoughts on the English program at Tech: If you chose your professors wisely, it was actually a good program. I had conservative Catholic friends majoring in English, so I could always rely on a good recommendation or a knowing "stay away from so-and-so radical feminist/postmodernist."

My specialty really was Medieval and Renaissance Literature. I took Shakespeare, Milton, Chaucer, Medieval Literature, and Renaissance Literature. I had a particularly wonderful older professor in his 70's (the kind of English professor you no longer have in English departments) who taught Southern Literature and Modern American Literature (first half of the twentieth century). His name was Dr. Edward Tucker. He died a couple of years ago and is the kind of professor far too many departments are losing: Someone who genuinely believes in the value of the literature and of Western Civilization. He was a Christian who went to church every week and was an inspiration in class.

Unfortunately, during the 90's, Virginia Tech began trying to model its English department on Duke University and hired many "multicultural" and feminazis. Nikki Giovanni was a new hire and proceeded to immediately diss the department. I remember my friends and I discussing how she could be so bold only having a B.A. and basically being known mainly for her early 70's militant black-power pieces. Lucinda Roy, who has been all over the news, was also another new hire, but I never took any classes from her.

Other favorite professors at the English department were Esther Richey, who taught a great Milton class. I believe she is now a professor at University of South Carolina. Linda Anderson was an excellent Renaissance specialist and I took a Shakespeare class from her and a Renaissance Literature class. My favorite professor (and my friends' favorite) was Tony Colianne, who was head of the department at the time and who taught humanities and Renaissance literature. I took an excellent class on Medieval and Renaissance Courtly literature and one on medieval humanities. I took several French classes but the French professor who was gunned down was not there when I was attending Tech.

Another terrific professor (and very conservative) was the Texan Joanne Harvill. She was also a staunchly conservative Catholic whom I would see in mass. My friends and I particularly liked her. I recall asking her what she thought of a visiting Duke professor and scholar of Milton that the Tech department was wooing. She said, "That is the last thing this department needs: Yet another feminist!" She was a good influence on me.

Unfortunately, since the late 90's the English department is far more multicultural and feminist. It has moved out of crowded Williams Hall on the Drill Field (the building on the left in the picture) to another location since I graduated.

My best influence was a retired Hungarian professor that my friends and I first met at daily mass on the Drill Field: The world famous Harvard botanist Dr. Leslie Garay and foremost authority on orchids in the world. (I just noticed he even has a Wikipedia article about him in Spanish.) He was formative influence, a very conservative Catholic. I would go over often to his place either by myself or with friends and discuss religion, politics, whatever. He really helped me get my life on track. I think everyone needs conservative role models.

Leslie after searching for places to retire from Harvard chose Blacksburg. But that is the kind of place Blacksburg is: peaceful, bucolic, and a fun place where students and faculty can interact in a small-town environment in a beautiful setting.

1 comment:

Chip said...

I happened across your entry/this blog just recently. As another VT English major (graduated late '80s), I just want to concur with your assessment that the English department at VT is (or at least was) better than you might think, even if you didn't hold liberal views. I was surprised to read here that JoAnn Harvill is a conservative Catholic -- I loved her to death and had many wonderful personal conversations with her, but I never saw any sign of that. Anderson was indeed great for Shakespeare.Other professors you didn't mention who I would shower accolades upon include Tom Gardner and Nancy Metz (both of whom are still there), as well as several instructors who were only allowed to teach five years at Tech.