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The College Experience 100 Years Apart

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Written by Kristi Rolf

At the end of this summer, I bought a new book. Like many people I know, I have a bad habit of buying new books to read while stacks of unread books sit neglected in my room. On this particular day, I picked up This Side of Paradise, an F. Scott. Fitzgerald novel about a young man coming-of-age in the early twentieth century. With the semester only a few weeks away, I promised myself that I would use those weeks to make headway in the book before my free time was once again swept away by a deluge of homework. 

A few chapters into the story, the main character, Amory, begins college at Princeton University. As I read Fitzgerald’s descriptions of collegiate life during the 1910s, I was struck by the similarities between Amory’s experiences at Princeton and my experiences at Roanoke more than a century later. A hundred years of history and new technology have transformed the American college system, meaning my day-to-day activities at college are drastically different from Amory’s. However, I learned that despite living in a different era, Amory was just as deeply affected by his college years as I have been by mine. Reading the evocative descriptions of campus life on the eve of my return to Roanoke after being so suddenly sent away in March set me on a path of sentimental nostalgia. When I came to the passage “the silent stretches of green, the quiet halls with an occasional late-burning scholastic light held his (Amory’s) imagination in a strong grasp,” I wanted nothing more than to be on campus strolling down heritage walk, or taking a late-night trek past empty academic buildings. As August brought the end of a long, anxious, and stagnant summer, I craved the exciting and fulfilling atmosphere at Roanoke. A few chapters later, I found Amory in his senior year. Ambling through the Princeton campus, one of Amory’s friends remarks, “what we feel now is the sense of all the gorgeous youth that has rioted through here in two hundred years.” I feel a similar aura at Roanoke College. I sense that I am the latest in a long procession of minds and characters who have been molded at Roanoke College and that many generations will follow mine. I am so grateful to be here on campus with many of my peers, and I can’t wait until we are all reunited again to experience the fullness of our few years at Dear Old Roanoke.