Following In Your Father's Footsteps

My college buddy from Detroit is in town this week. We stayed up too late last night talking, just like we used to do when we were back in school at Emory University. My buddy was in Atlanta this weekend to bring his son, who recently received his acceptance letter to Emory, for a visit to our alma mater.

Of all the guys I hung out with regularly in college, he is the only one with a child old enough to graduate from high school this year. My buddy is understated, with a naturally solemn disposition, but last night, he was beaming at two thirty in the morning like it was the middle of the day as he told me about giving his son the tour, where he pointed out to the future freshman the changes made to the campus since the eighties. There was a different heft to his words as they left his mouth now, a deeper level of gravitas than he’d had earlier, as my buddy explained to me how he had described the way things used to be to his son. 

As I listened to my buddy talk, I saw the two of them in my mind’s eye, as if they were on the cover of a Hallmark greeting card, circa 2010. It seems that for African Americans, participating in a middle class father-son rite of passage is starting to become a quintessential part of Americana.

Colleges and universities have always been interested in intergenerational continuity. The level of alumni support from this group is tremendous, if not in the size of gifts and donations, most definitely in the participation level. Twenty six years ago, when my buddy and I were freshmen, colleges like Emory, Duke, Vanderbilt and other selective institutions across the country were in the midst of a seminal transformation, dramatically diversifying the racial composition of their student bodies. More African Americans entered these schools than ever before, with some schools, like Emory, substantially increasing their minority student enrollment.  

And now, many of these same graduates are sending their children to college. As my buddy continued to talk, my mind wandered back to the years I’d spent crisscrossing the very quadrangle his son would soon come to know like the back of his hand. I thought of the unique and talented people, and the way too many pre-med majors I’d met when I got there. I hoped my buddy’s son would feel the same adrenaline rush his father and I had that very first day on campus.  To this small town boy from South Carolina, going to college in such a cloistered environment was the equivalent of Neil Armstrong’s epic walk on the moon.      

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