My Ohio: Campus Life

A flood of memories illustrates the power of the places where we first found our way.

It’s been 20 years since I’ve had a Dayton address. But every time I go back, as soon as I hit the Edwin C. Moses exit, I get a huge, ridiculous grin on my face.

That was the exit I took the first time I visited the University of Dayton, when my dad and I dropped off my sister for her freshman year of college. Four years later, I was on that exit again, this time as my dad moved me in for my first year.

My husband also went to UD; that’s where we met. Because we live in Cincinnati now, it’s only natural that we go back to visit campus every so often.

We try to catch a basketball game each winter and make a full day of it with a drive down Brown Street and through campus. We show our three kids the dorms where we lived as underclassmen and the houses we cherished as juniors and seniors.

We keep an eye out for what has changed since our last visit and laugh at our kids’ questions: “Why is there a couch on that porch? Your bedroom was the dining room? Your classes were all in different buildings?”

Lunch means Tank’s Bar & Grill (a favorite hangout), where we enjoy a beer and order some Road Kill Chili to go so we can freeze it for later. We buy new Flyers gear for each family member (for if the parents went to the University of Dayton, the children will be Flyers fans).

That cheesy grin stays with me as we pass the building where my favorite classes were held (St. Joe’s) and the student union candy counter (no longer there) where one of our best friends worked. Pretty much, the day is full of smiles, and that means one thing: I’m home.

It’s not quite the same heading home as an adult. When we return to Cincinnati after a vacation, it’s nice. But it also means sorting mail, starting laundry and mowing the lawn. Going back to the University of Dayton carries with it none of those responsibilities. Instead, it means reliving some of the best times of our youth and remembering the strong bonds we made there.

Memories rise from all parts of campus: my freshman dorm and the excitement of my first move-in day; Anderson Center, the site of my internship and where I learned what it means to have a supportive leader; the student union, where I traded smiles with my now-husband.

Then, there’s 20 Lawnview, the beloved house from my senior year. I lived in the area of student housing that Flyers affectionately call the Ghetto. Like many college-town neighborhoods, houses with porches sit tucked tight next to one another. Most of my friends lived nearby, and I could find someone to talk to nearly any time of the day.

Our next-door neighbors were a group of guys my housemates and I didn’t know very well, but I eventually befriended one of them over many talks across our front porches.

We ended up watching “Apocalypse Now” together for my film class and shared new music with each other (yes, I admit it, through mix tapes). That’s what UD’s front porches did for us — they helped us forge friendships and created an authentic sense of home.

Years later, my husband and I realize that we’ve taken that sense of community to heart. Our first house had a front porch, just like the ones on most of the houses in the Ghetto. As we spent time outside talking with our neighbors, those talks slowly and unexpectedly turned our quiet side street into a tight-knit group of people who had fun together and looked out for one another.

We moved recently, but that sense of community is already stirring on our new street, little by little, with walks down the block and front-porch conversations like those we had at UD all those years ago. No matter where we reside, that place will always be home.

Kate Harold is a freelance writer based in Cincinnati.