Remember the term "junior college?"
That's what we called a "community college" back in the 1960s and 1970s. It was a perfectly fine term. These institutions of higher learning were not quite as high-minded as colleges and universities so they were called "junior." When I was in high schools (1965-69), the term usually was said in a slightly condescending way, as in "he's going to the junior college." You know, grades 13 and 14.
Commuting to class and living with your parents. Seeing those same creepy people every day that made your high school years a living hell. Working that same stupid fast-food job you had at 16. Partying at the same old places.
Meanwhile, college-bound kids such as me jetted off to distant destinations where we discovered dorm living and seeing creepy people who went to other boring high schools and working some stupid fast-food job near campus or busing tables at a sorority. Partying at some new places but doing the same old things.
Sometimes going away to school didn't work out and a guy like me found his way back to his hometown and a trip to his junior college. All those kids I knew who went there were now off to a university somewhere. Or married. Or in Vietnam. Don't forget that a junior college draft deferment worked just as well as one to Harvard.
I spent a year in junior college and loved it. I started the same year that I should have graduated. At that point, the draft had passed me by and so had many of my bad habits. I shared a house with an old high school chum. Worked nights as an orderly in the county hospital's drug and alcohol unit. I sometimes had to attend to people my own age who were wigged out on acid or strung out on heroin. Most nights, I partied after work with my coworkers, drinking and smoking pot, secure in the knowledge that we would never end up as patients in our own unit.
I graduated from Daytona Beach Community College with an A.A. degree. That earned me an entrance into the University of Florida where I graduated with a B.A. in English in 1976. I wouldn't have made it without the help of the junior-type college in my hometown. It later became a community college and, later still, a four-year college. I hope it never loses sight of the fact that it can be a lifeline for those people who need a little time and extra attention to move on. A dozen years after my UF graduation, I was admitted into a graduate program and graduated four years later with an M.F.A., when I was 41 years old.
I was a little older and a little bit wiser as a community college student. Maybe that's why I got so much out of my classes. It couldn't be that they were just damn fine classes. I was introduced to writers Tom Robbins and Walker Percy in an English class led by Phil Drimmel. I'd never even heard of those writers before "Another Roadside Attraction" and "Love in the Ruins" got on Mr. Drimmel's syllabus. I made my first-ever public speech in a speech class that I took as a lark -- I've made hundreds of speeches and emceed many events since. I learned about some obscure classical art in a humanities class. I remember them well. This was the first time that I could freely call myself an English major and not a science major. It was freeing. I was writing in my spare time and trying to figure out how to get published.
I thought about all this last Thursday night when Chris and I attended a reception put on the the Laramie County Community College (LCCC) Foundation. The foundation's Lifetime Heritage Society honored Dr. Robert Prentice and Dr. Sandra Surbrugg for their donations of money and time and attention to college arts and humanities programs, notably the Literary Connection. As a writer, I've attended every Literary Connection since it began in 2004. My employer, the Wyoming Arts Council, has provided grants for it. The YMCA, where Chris works, has been a partner since the beginning. Chris and I used to be on the planning committee until the foundation took over a few years ago. It takes a village to put on any worthwhile arts event.
Drs. Prentice and Surbrugg put on a Literary Connection dinner every year at their sprawling home north of town. They foot the bill for the event, held on the ground floor surrounded by the artwork and books they collected over the years. Good food, great conversation, and a chance to chat with writers such as Tim O'Brien, Poe Ballantine, Pam Houston and many others. Also a great time to talk with members of the foundation, faculty and the community college's elected board. We're not all cut from the same political cloth, which makes conversation interesting.
Sandra owes her medical career to LCCC. The college let her take two classes so she could enter the University of Colorado Medical School. She needed the classes to satisfy the entrance requirements and needed them immediately. Sandra said:
"I may not have gotten a degree from LCCC, but if it hadn't been for LCCC, I wouldn't have been able to enter medical school. You feel like you have to give back."
She and her husband have given back in a big way.
I've taught as an adjunct at LCCC a number of times. My daughter's been a student there. My son has an A.A. degree from Pima Community College in Tucson. Chris went to a community college. Our taxes help pay for LCCC and we get out to vote for sixth-penny tax measures that build new facilities.
There's a lot of "community" in "community college."