Last weekend I attended a reunion of classmates and friends from Concordia Lutheran College in Austin, TX. Each of us attended and/or graduated from Concordia between 1980 and 1986. I came away from that weekend recharged, rejuvenated, and ever so thankful for these good Christian friends and my status as a Concordia alumnus.
Working in corporate America, I always enjoy comparing college experiences with many professional colleagues. Based on these discussions I have come to appreciate the unique and rich character of my college experience. Many business professionals I know attended large universities and have Greek letters associated with their college experience. They root for their alma mater football team, wear the colors, and puff up with pride when their school is positioned for the coveted BCS Championship. When they tell me these stories, I smile. When I tell them about my Concordia experience, they’re intrigued.
When I enrolled at Concordia in the fall of 1980, our student body totaled somewhere in the mid-300’s. That’s three hundreds. I very quickly knew everybody and they knew me. Our professors and administrators – even the college president – knew each of us by name. They would greet us by name with a smile as we’d pass by in the hall or on one of the campus’ beautiful sidewalks. They dined with us in Texas Hall. Our instructors were not Graduate Assistants; they were full professors, many of whom had earned their PhD. Class sizes were small and each syllabus included the professor’s home telephone number, just in case we had a question as we studied at night; and they were disappointed if we had a question but didn’t call. Concordia offered an amazing sense of community, and that community included her students, faculty and administrators. That sense of community forged a bond between us that still exists today. At that point in my life, there was no place I would rather have been. I loved it.
Concordia, Concordia, Our own Texas college dear,
Reminds us of the days we love as we serve throughout the years;
Concordia, Concordia, your towering logo lifts our eyes,
To higher ways and brighter days ‘neath God’s gracious Texas skies.
Purple and white, our colors we raise at the dawning of every new day.
Our hearts unite in the service we share for our Lord who shows us the way.
Say it softly, say it loudly, say it often, say it proudly:
Concordia, Concordia our own Texas college dear.
~ “Concordia” words & music by Fred Frehleng
As a pre-seminary student I majored in General Studies. Concordia was best known at that time for graduating young men prepared to enroll in seminary and young adults prepared to teach elementary school. We also graduated business majors, Mexican-American studies majors, and Communications majors. We had an excellent music program, in which I minored. I played my trumpet in all sorts of venues playing all kinds of music. I sang baritone in the college choir. I participated in worship and music groups that traveled and toured. I am thankful to have studied music under two of the finest Christian musicians I know. Concordia was a small liberal arts college, and from her I received a superb education.
As Concordia’s enrollment increased over the years, she outgrew her campus situated just north of the University of Texas in Austin. After a diligent search, they purchased a former corporate training facility located near Cedar Park northwest of Austin. The old campus was sold to a developer and Concordia celebrated the opening of her new campus in the fall of 2008. I was crushed. The pictures I saw of wrecking balls demolishing the place I had grown to love broke my heart. When I traveled to Austin on business, I always built an hour or so into my schedule so I could walk the campus and greet faculty and staff. As I walked the campus during those return visits the memories of my days at Concordia would come flooding back. I treasured those visits, and now my beloved Concordia had been taken away from me. Like many alumni, I was bitter. More than that, I was angry.
Many of us alums vented our anger with one another. We shared it. We talked about how insensitive it was to allow this place that harbored such rich history and so many fond memories to be destroyed. We talked about those beautiful buildings, gone with the swing of a wrecking ball. We talked about losing our sense of home; it felt as if we had been exiled. Our alma mater, by allowing the destruction of our campus, had expatriated us. We felt abandoned and left behind. To be sure, we heard many good things about the new campus. We didn’t care. Our Concordia was gone.
A dear friend and fellow alumnus worked at Concordia during the move. About two years after the move we were chatting about the new campus and I shared with her my feelings of bitterness and anger. No, I hadn’t visited and no, I had no intention of doing so. She told me about the ever-increasing costs to maintain the old buildings, and how Concordia had run out of room to grow for her future. She painted a verbal picture of the beautiful 389 acres Concordia now calls home, 250 of which is dedicated as a nature preserve. She described the flow of the buildings and how they fit so well with Concordia’s mission and sense of community. She related how careful the administration and staff had been to remove and preserve important items from our old campus; some are placed on the new campus and others wait in storage – but they’re there, awaiting just the right spot for display. She told me about many of the faculty who were still actively working on campus and how much they enjoyed seeing alumni visit and discover the new campus. As we talked I realized that Concordia was still very much alive. The sense of community I treasured so much was still completely intact. Concordia hadn’t abandoned me. In my bitterness and anger, I had abandoned her.
Not long after that conversation I learned that Concordia was seeking an alumni representative for the Dallas/Fort Worth area. I volunteered. Soon after accepting that role I toured the new campus for the first time. The feelings of bitterness and anger were still there to some extent; I couldn’t help that. As I walked the campus with our Director of Alumni Relations I felt a sense of awkwardness, as if I had wandered into somebody else’s home. She told me that enrollment at Concordia University Texas exceeded 2,000 students – and still growing! Over the years, the University had added many degree programs to its offerings. As we walked, I couldn’t help but appreciate the natural beauty of the place. Looking into the faces of the students, I began to see my friends and me as if it were 25 years ago. We peeked into several classrooms. Class sizes were still small and I was pleased to see several familiar faces standing before those assembled to learn. As we walked, my wounds began to heal. Indeed, Concordia had a rich history on her old campus. But I soon realized that her history was ongoing. And I was determined to rejoin her on that journey, as God would have me do so.
As we planned our 80’s era reunion several of my classmates were still bitter and angry over the move. I get it; I understand. I know that feeling all too well. The planning committee decided to host the reunion on Concordia’s campus, hoping that those who joined us would appreciate her beauty and feel the same sense of reconnection I felt on that first tour a few years back. Some expressed disappointment that the reunion was on campus, others were pleased. Based on the smiles and camaraderie over the weekend, I consider the reunion a great success.
God’s gift of Christian friendship is one of His greatest gifts to His children. As we stepped onto campus for the first time together last Friday evening the years melted away. Familiar faces filled the campus’ large deck (called “The Pier”) overlooking the nature preserve. Hugs – big hugs – were exchanged as the years literally melted away. We took great joy in renewing our bonds of friendship with those who were there, and we missed those who couldn’t join us. We parted ways Sunday afternoon with renewed and strengthened Christian friendships. For me, my bond with my Concordia is once again completely intact and stronger than ever.
I treasure my time at Concordia and the education I received there. I treasure the people who I consider lifelong friends, and I look forward to seeing them once again. God has richly blessed me indeed.
And friends are friends forever
If the Lord’s the Lord of them
And a friend will not say never
‘Cause the welcome will not end
Though it’s hard to let you go
In the Father’s hands we know
That a lifetime’s not too long to live as friends
~ “Friends” Words by Deborah D Smith; Music by Michael W. Smith>
Concordia offers a terrific education in a Christian environment on her beautiful campus northwest of Austin, Texas. The list of major offerings is rich, including a fully accredited nursing program. Click here to learn more.
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