By Mark Hamilton
I arrived at NCU in the fall of 2009. For the first time I was on my own, hundreds of miles from my family in a strange city. My mind was filled with the familiar faces of my hometown, faces I knew I would not see again for quite some time. All around me were new faces, freshmen like me and upperclassmen volunteering for orientation. It was a lot to take in. Did I make the right choice? Was this the right school for me? I was shy, nervous, and afraid.
In the years that have followed I’ve reflected a lot on that first semester. It was an important milestone, and those few months shaped my understanding and appreciation of NCU. You see, we all know that, while NCU is a fine institution with talented faculty, NCU isn’t famous for its academic prowess. It doesn’t have the prestige or Harvard or Yale; it doesn’t even have the prestige of the U of O, as far as name recognition goes. It also isn’t the cheapest institution in the world. Nor does it have state of the art laboratories or research centers. It arguably has one of the best education programs in the state, and it’s music industry and ministry programs are excellent and fairly well-known in Christian circles; but I am a communication major. There were a lot of reasons to believe that choosing to attend NCU may have been a mistake. However, after that first semester I was completely sold on NCU, and I still am. Why?
Because NCU made me family.
When I was a nervous, intimidated freshman NCU reached out to me and gave me a warm embrace. That’s the only way I can describe it. All around me were good people reaching out and caring about me. People waved me over to join them at meals, asked me how I was doing, and invited me over to their rooms to watch movies. When life groups started up I joined one, and found myself meeting with people who came to care about my life and my struggles, just as I came to care about theirs. I made many close friends, but it seemed like almost everyone was some kind of friend. I couldn’t find the pecking order, teasing, or general negativity that I was accustomed to find in the world at large. NCU sits like a tiny green island in the sea of the city at large. Cross a few streets and you’ll find panhandlers, rowdy college students, drunks, and addicts. NCU by contrast is safe and friendly. Is it annoying to some that alcohol is banned on campus? Certainly. But I think we all appreciated the safe environment. No walking past dorm rooms full of hazy smoke, no drunk students stumbling down the corridor at night, and no having to look the other way while people participated in self-destructive behaviors in your own hall. NCU was safe, friendly, and open. I fell in love with it immediately.
I still am in love with it. How could you not fall in love with this place? How could you not love the way that every professor is available to students at any time? I love that I can drop by and talk to my professors about anything that’s bothering me. I love how, if I have a problem with registration, or paperwork, or finances, I can go talk to actual people who try their hardest to help me get past any obstacles I face. I love how everyone knows each other, and if you don’t know someone you can just sit next to them in the caf and introduce yourself. I love this school!
I can’t speak for anyone else’s experience. Maybe you’ve had a harder time here at NCU than I have. All I can write about is what I have experienced: love, friendship, compassion, safety, and community. This school is not perfect, but I’m glad I came here. If I could go back and choose again, I’d still pick NCU over any other school in existence.
I’m graduating in a week. These are my last few days at the school I love. I going to miss it terribly, but all good things must come to an end. I know the relationships I made here will last into eternity. My final parting words to you who remain here is this: NCU didn’t become my family by accident. It happened because four years ago people like you and me reached out to a shy, nervous, and introverted freshmen named Mark. So I’ll ask you to reach out to the people around you. Introduce yourself to someone you’ve never met before. Join some life groups, or start one of your own. If you can, volunteer for orientation. Even if you can’t find a freshmen next year who seems lonely and let them know that they’re welcome at your table anytime. Don’t let NCU become like any other school out there. Keep it a family.