10 July 2013

Homecoming, 2008.

The year is 2013, meaning it’s now been 15 years since I graduated from Bethany College, later Bethany University, which closed its doors in 2011. Now all that’s left of it is a campus which isn’t selling, a giant debt left over from years of mismanagement, and a really hostile alumni page on Facebook where people bitterly yell past one another about how the school should never have closed, and “who’s offered to buy the campus? Why, they’re not orthodox enough. Stop the sale!…” ad nauseam.

Well, that and some really awesome alumni, myself included. So there’s that.

Since nobody bothers to make much of a to-do of five-year and 15-year reunions, there’s not one for my graduating class. There wasn’t much of one for my 10-year reunion. I went to it in 2008, and I decided to resurrect some of the old posts I wrote about it.

Where I anticipate what I’m in for at Bethany’s homecoming.

Originally posted 1 February 2008.

The year is 2008. That means it’s now been 10 years since I graduated from Bethany College (now University) in 1998, and 20 since I graduated from Vanden High School in 1988. So, I’m feeling old. Not that old, but you know… old. Older.

I’ve said I have next to no interest in going to my high school reunion—in spite of being tracked down via Facebook and forcibly added to the VHS reunion page. But long before I have to decline invitations for that one, there’s Homecoming at Bethany, which takes place in two weeks. And since I live in the same town, and have Saturday free, there’s really no reason to miss it.

Well… except for the Homecoming schedule. Here it is.

Friday, 15 February.

  • 11 am. Guest Speaker and Alumni of the Year, Daniel Stump.
  • 11:45 am. Hall of Fame Luncheon.
  • 3 pm. Alumni vs. Alumni Game.
  • 5 pm. Reception Dinner.
  • 5:30 pm. Women’s Basketball Game vs. Simpson College.
  • 7:30 pm. Men’s Basketball Game vs. Simpson.
  • 9:30 pm. Presidential Reception.

Saturday, 16 February.

  • 8:30 am. Continental Breakfast.
  • 10 am. Award Chapel.
  • 12 pm. Lunch.
  • 2 pm. Decade Party.

They actually charge you for all these events, you know. You’re expected to pony up $50 for the whole shebang. $24 if you’re just gonna be there Friday, and $28 if just Saturday. Plus they want you to pay alumni dues. What’s the purpose of alumni dues? So they can maintain the mailing list, and send me a yearly newsletter in which they tell me all the great things Bethany is doing, in the hopes I’ll send them money. Basically I’m paying for them to ask me for money.

Since you knew I was gonna do it anyway, let’s go through these events one by one and look at whether or not they’ll be worth my time. Or anyone’s time.

The guest speaker. I don’t know Daniel Stump. He’s a missionary to Barcelona, Spain. I’m sure he’s quite deserving of an award, since missionaries never get enough credit for the hard work they put into church-planting. I expect his speech will consist of some stories about his experiences. It’ll be inspiring. Missionary stories usually are. However, I hear missionary stories on a pretty regular basis, and don’t wish to pay to hear another one. By the way, for those of you who don’t know Latin, his title should be Alumnus of the Year. But Bethany didn’t teach Latin, and as I recall there were darned few of us in Greek.

Hall of Fame Luncheon. Of course there will be food, which is always appreciated. It’ll be Café Bethany food, which is typically hit-and-miss. In order to make it a more formal occasion, they may break out the tablecloths and chafing dishes and the nice plates, and the entrees may be more grandiose than usual. But it’ll be Café Bethany food. I ate the stuff for years and don’t have that many fond memories of it. I remember it was spectacular in my first year, then turned to junk, then hovered round the Hometown Buffet standard. But I know even the most pedestrian cafeteria cook can crank out a decent meal when they’re called upon to do so.

The Hall of Fame component… well, I’m not entirely sure what that consists of. My guess is they’ll point out some of the more distinguished Bethany alumni, and we’ll collectively shrug our shoulders because we’re all Bethany alumni: We know it wasn’t the school which made us distinguished. It was God. It was us, as individuals, allowing God to do something significant with us. Some of these significant things produce titles. Some don’t. Since, as Jesus pointed out, in the Kingdom of God titles are irrelevant, we’re sort of honoring the very thing God doesn’t care about.

Alumni vs. Alumni Game. I don’t suppose the game will be paintball, although that would be several kinds of awesome. No, it’ll likely be basketball or volleyball—something we can play in the gym. The participants will consist of those alumni who’ve managed to stay in shape, plus a few good sports who were nagged into doing it by classmates or spouses. No one will care about the outcome… other than people who really shouldn’t. It’s really just an excuse to fill in the massive blank spot between lunch and dinner.

Reception Dinner. At some point or another, President Max Rossi is gonna insist upon speaking, and I wouldn’t at all be surprised if he uses this particular dinner to do it. He’s gonna talk about Bethany’s distinguished past. Of course, since we were there, we know what that past really consists of; Max wasn’t there, so all he knows is what the yearbooks vaguely show him. He’s gonna talk about Bethany’s amazing potential future. Of course, since we’ve heard many such speeches before, we know nearly all of them will come to nothing. They’re still in talks about selling the school to Azusa Pacific University. The future is up in the air.

Nonetheless, Max will try to tug at our heartstrings a little bit. He’s pretty good at that. He’ll be effective, I expect. Nostalgia is a funny thing. We tend to blot out our negative experiences, just because they were negative. All that’s left are a few individual (somewhat fuzzy) positive memories, and if they can be combined with some nice emotions, you might actually have something which makes you wistful for the past. The further away you are from that past, the fuzzier and more sepia-toned the memories become. We can even be convinced to honor those memories by throwing money at them.

But my memory is pretty darn sharp. I remember Bethany had great students which became great friends. I remember excellent professors. I also remember an inept administration which got in the way, way more often than helped. Since I live in the same town and know a few Bethany professors and students, I know things haven’t changed any. I’m not going to Homecoming to see the administration—even though I know Max Rossi, and think him a nice guy. I have no interest in funding grand projects which will either be tossed out the window once Azusa buys the school, or once Max gets sacked, or five years down the road when Max changes his mind ’cause he heard somewhere that Vanguard tried it. Schools are ultimately about the people, not the institution itself. I’m going to homecoming to visit the people. If they’re not there I’ll be bummed. They are 90 percent of what I care about. I only care about Bethany because I’d like my professors to stay gainfully employed. Well, most of them.

Basketball. I don’t know anyone on the current teams. I haven’t been following Bethany’s track record, and don’t care. At Bethany, basketball is, and has always been, a giant money pit. Money is dumped into that program to fund athletic scholarships for a lot of below-average scholars, Christians in name only, who are regularly unconnected with student life. The only reason I knew any basketball players as an undergrad was because some of them lived in my hall. They demonstrated nothing but contempt for the spiritual life on the campus, figuring it was all hypocritical because they themselves were hypocrites. Of course there were exceptions; some really outstanding Christians who are still serving Jesus in their communities. But there had to be some other way to get ’em scholarships to Bethany. The rest served no useful purpose to the school except to win games, and they often didn’t.

I still think Bethany’s intercollegiate athletics program should be eliminated. The scholarships ought to be given to more worthy academic candidates, and the gym used for actual P.E. courses. The only reason we have a homecoming game is to make people not think about the drain basketball truly is. It’s to watch the kids beat Simpson College, and evoke more nostalgia.

Presidential Reception. I’ve actually crashed one of these after the Homecoming game. It’s pretty much coffee, hors d’oeuvres, and the President shows up to schmooze. It’s so people can come down after all the excitement during the game… provided Bethany wins, which it may.

I may actually crash this year’s reception, but otherwise I have no interest in going to the Friday events.

Continental Breakfast. That means no chafing dishes; just cold muffins and scones and fruit. And hot beverages. Since I’m paying $28 for what amounts to two meals and small talk, it’s a bit disheartening that our first meal is gonna suck hard. I’d rather go to the Starbucks down the road. But even so, I’m definitely going to the continental breakfast. I’m not gonna go to the extremes my dad would, and smuggle scones out of the café. But I’ll be sure to eat a lot of them.

If I run into some interesting classmates and get to talking with them, I’ll make sure to skip…

Award Chapel. In which there will be a chapel service. Likely worship music, which is fine; and maybe another bad sermon, the likes of which I had to put up with throughout my years at Bethany. Oh, and they’re gonna hand out awards. Awards for what? To whom? Well honestly, who gives a rip? What could any of us have done, which actually merits an award from Bethany? I suppose if we gave them a million bucks to renovate the dorms, or managed to recruit a thousand students, there’d be legitimate cause for recognition. But awards for just going through life, doing what Christ has called us to do? I want my award from Christ, not alumni president Abe Daniel. No offense, Abe; I just happen to prefer my boss’s accolades to yours. Especially since yours may cancel his out. (Mt 6.1-6)

Lunch. If you’re visiting the campus on any other day, lunch at Café Bethany is about $5. So I’m getting severely overcharged here. I also know from experience that the students, the ones currently paying to be here (like I was when Homecoming took place when I was a student), are being shunted to the Fireside Room to eat substandard lunch fare. Even though they pay a bundle for the meal program. Nobody wins but the Café.

I have a bad feeling we’ll also have to put up with speakers during lunch. But hopefully my classmates and I can ignore them and get on with our conversations.

When I was an undergrad, our lunchtime conversations would occasionally last till about 2. Everyone would be gone—the café staff trying to shoo us out of there—and we’d still go nattering along about whether Jesus’s students ever played soccer, or whether New Jerusalem will have indoor plumbing, or whether King David in his youth ever worried his sheep. I’ve never initiated any of the more inane conversations, but for whatever reason I felt obligated to put them to rest, and so we’d go on and on and on till we absolutely had to leave for our afternoon commitments. No doubt some of us can still talk like that. I certainly can.

Decade Party. As if the bulk of us hadn’t already grouped into cliques with the folks we attended school with, we’re now forced to go off and mix with people, based on the decade in which we graduated. So that puts me in the ’90s room. I know some people who graduated in the 2000s, and some who graduated in decades previous, but I guess I’ll get that schmoozing out of the way over breakfast and lunch.

And there, I guess, we’ll stay until people decide they have to drive home to other parts of California, or catch a flight to other parts of the world, or decide they’re just tired of reminiscing with people who really haven’t grown as individuals since they last saw them. Others will stay uncomfortably late, until staff encourages them to leave and take it to Starbucks (and since the one nearest the campus closes at 9, maybe they should take it to LuLu Carpenter’s in Santa Cruz). As for me, I will probably have had enough of them by 4, and go home and get ready for the Sunday service.

Homecoming from the alumnus’s perspective.

Originally posted 16 February 2008.

First of all, let me rant about a minor peeve of mine. “Alumni” is plural. If you’re referring to an individual, it’s “alumnus” for a male, “alumna” for a female. You don’t call yourself an “alumni” of your school; it’s like identifying yourself as a “dumbasses.” Got that? Good. Now it’s out of my system.

Well anyway:

8:30 am. Continental Breakfast. I showed up early for the Continental Breakfast, and after a few minutes got in there, got my nametag, and proceeded to scarf down bagels and scones and raisin bran. And lots of coffee. The café has apparently switched to serving good coffee. Last time I was there, they served Starbucks™, but they didn’t really know how to brew it properly. (And I suspect they were using Scotts Valley tap water, which tastes like ass. Literally, like a dead ass was dropped into the aquifer, where its sulfurous carcass tainted every sip.) So it wasn’t all that great. I once compared it with actual Starbucks after having gone directly from Starbucks™ to the café…. Aw, crap, I’m off on a tangent. Never mind.

Okay. So. I figured, “Well, the class of ’98 has gotta show up at some point, so I’ll make sure there’s a table for them,” and I picked out an empty table and started eating at it. About 15 minutes in, it occurred to me the gang may very well have gone to the Presidential Reception last night, decided to move on to an after-party elsewhere, and decided to ditch the Continental Breakfast because they’re too hung over tired. A member of the class of ’61 figured the same thing. So the next thing you know, I’m at a table with a bunch of seventy-somehings, and they’re discovering to their horror that I actually believe in both Jesus and global warming.

It was interesting listening to them reminisce. Some of them were there when the school moved from San Francisco to Santa Cruz back in the late ’50s, and they had some zany memories.

Five cups of coffee later, I went to the chapel.

10 am. Award Chapel. I was hoping to avoid this, but I went to the bloody thing anyway.

The Alumni Coordinator had asked me, during breakfast, whether I’d like to go be a part of the Alumni Choir, which was warming up before the service. I declined with my usual, “I don’t think anyone wants to hear me sing.” I assumed some of my class was in the choir. None were. In fact, the only person in my class there at the chapel at all, was Alumni Association President Abe Daniel. Everyone else… well, I met a very few people from ’88, a larger bunch from ’78, a lot of people from ’68, and even more people from ’58. Which makes sense. Older people tend to be retired and can afford to make the time for Homecoming. People my age haven’t always felt the nostalgia kick in just yet. Wait till we hit 40.

The service began with some scholarship recipients, who wished to thank the Alumni Association, so Abe had them come up on stage while he read their thank-you speeches. Why’d he read them? Why couldn’t they read them? I didn’t remember to ask him later. Maybe it was for the sake of time; maybe they were nervous; maybe Abe likes to hear himself talk… Nah, they were probably nervous.

Then we sang a hymn, and we were introduced to the current ASB Student Senate, as if we cared. The ASB president said a few words, which indicated he must’ve been elected for personal popularity, ’cause it sure wasn’t for public speaking skills. Hey, so long that he’s doing a good job.

Garland Covington was presented the Heritage Award, so he said a few words. Pretty much all the award recipients didn’t know why they were deserving of an award. Alice Alford (who won the Founders’ Award) joked they ran out of worthy recipients, so they decided to give ’em to everyone else, and since her name starts with A, she’s first. Jay Swartzendruber, who won the Outstanding Young Alumnus Award, didn’t show up to receive it, but sent some remarks. As I pointed out, none of us are doing what we’re doing so that Bethany will give us awards.

The Alumni Choir came after Covington. First they sang the GTBI Song. Glad Tidings Bible Institute is Bethany’s original name, when it was in San Francisco, and some of the visiting alumni were actually GTBI alumni. So we sang their school song. Then we sang the Bethany Alma Mater. It was written when Bethany was still called Bethany College, but a few years ago it became Bethany University, so the song was altered: In the two instances where it had “college,” it now had “university.” Trouble is, it now has three extra syllables in two different lines, and attempting to compress “university” into two syllables became chaos.

“Someone needs to write a new song,” I told Abe later. “And put a backbeat in it.”

“Not me,” he said.

Then the choir sang an old Pentecostal hymn, a few more people accepted awards, the Bethany Ambassadors sang some worship songs… which I’ll rant about another time. (The Ambassadors were fine, but their song selection… yeah, I’ll rant about it later.)

Then we had karaoke: Dan Fryer and Lisa Jensen, two fiftysomethings with big ’80s hair (which is how you know they’re fiftysomethings), got up and sang along to a CD track. This being Bethany's chapel, their monitors (if they even had any) in no way matched the external sound system. So they had no idea how much their voices were being drowned out by the cheesy backing harmonies of the CD, and how the sound guy—all the way in the back of the chapel, unable to actually hear anything, since there are no speakers back there—was desperately trying to balance them as they sang. Great Thundering Zeus, it was awful. Profoundly awful. But we clapped anyway because we’re all nice Christians. Plus many of the older alumni suffer from hearing loss. Anyway, some of us are used to crap like that in our churches on a regular basis. This is how singers get the idea they’re any good: Our pity applause only encourages them to inflict more of their “talent” upon others, and try out for American Idol, and fail humiliatingly. See folks, this is why honesty is the best policy. I know you want to spare their feelings, but think of the hundreds of people who have to experience this horror again.

Bethany President Max Rossi then got up to speak, and of course he included some fund-raising, ’cause that’s his job. We had to watch a video of how Bethany wants to build a new dorm… and throw in a conference center while they’re at it. Of course, since everyone’s aware Bethany may very well be purchased by some other school within the next couple years, it’s not gonna be easy to raise money for infrastructure when you don’t know how that money will be re-allocated under the new administrators. So I don’t know how well the pleas for money went. I doubt they went well.

12 pm. Lunch. Again I figured the class of ’98 might finally show, so I took a solo table. Then nobody showed. I eventually wound up with current Bethany students at my table.

“You don’t usually eat this well on a Saturday, I take it,” I said to one student.

“Never,” she said.

“And that’s the dumb thing,” I said. “We’re alumni. We know what Bethany is like. We lived here. We know the buildings are falling apart, and the food sucks, and administrators have huge plans that won’t ever go anywhere but they really want money for it. Who do they think they’re kidding?”

I don’t know if my ranting drove them away, but they did leave awfully quickly. Eventually the folks who sat by me at breakfast came over, and we talked a little about grandchildren and HMOs.

The food wasn’t bad; salad and vegetables and grilled chicken, served on the chafing trays because they didn’t want us wandering through the cafeteria-style serving tables and experiencing some real nostalgia for what college food is like.

Abe took advantage of the fact we were all at lunch together to perform some Alumni Association business. We had to approve a new member to the Alumni board. Since I knew the candidate, Kirk Smith (he was ASB vice-president on my first year in the Student Senate) I figured he was pretty unlikely to screw up the job, and voted for him.

Then, for some reason, probably because someone owed Satan a favor, Fryer and Jensen popped in a CD and proceeded to “entertain” us for the rest of our meal. As I felt the bile rise, I told the folks at my table, “I don’t think it’s possible to be too early for the Decade Party,” and left.

2 pm. Decade Party. The Decade Party was in the Spot, also called the Robert Harrison Student Union, which used to be the bookstore when I was an undergrad. I used to live on the third floor. I actually arrived for the Decade Party at 1 pm, and spent the entire hour reading, and waiting for other people to show up.

Everyone who graduated from 1990 to 1999 were expected to go to the Spot and reunite. What made it a “party” was that the Homecoming coordinators had provided us with two 12-packs of canned iced tea. Yes indeedy, that was $28 well spent on Homecoming.

If you didn’t come to Homecoming, you suck. In all there were (I think) 12 of us. Most of us were alumni, and a few of us were spouses. Some brought kids. We hung out for about two hours, said hi, talked about what we’d done in the past decade and what we were doing now, caught each other up on the classmates we knew who weren’t there, resisted the temptation to manufacture malicious, scandalous gossip about the ones who said they were coming and didn’t (okay, that was just me) and left around 4.

“We need to get everyone to attend next Homecoming,” one of them commented.

Yeah, probably. I might attend. That’s actually my brother’s graduating class, but I know a few of them. Might be interesting. But I think I’ll give the rest of the “festivities,” such as they are, a miss and only go to the Decade Party. The rest of the action was a waste of the day.

No offense to the coordinators… but come on, folks. Would you want to attend any of that?