Twenty years ago, I settled into a new home away from home. I had never been away from “home-home” for more than a couple days at a time, and here I was in a dorm room that would be mine for the next four years. I was an incoming freshman at Upper Iowa University and it was a whole new world (cue the Aladdin song).
The road to Upper Iowa (UIU) began the summer before my senior year of high school. My mom and I hit campus after campus in an attempt to find the ideal landing spot for the next stage of my life. We checked out public schools (Iowa and Northern Iowa). We checked out private schools (UIU, Buena Vista, Coe, and University of Dubuque). I even created a senior project that compared the pros and cons of each school (yes, I’m a nerd – thanks for asking).
UIU gave me everything I was looking for. It was a smaller campus (and a beautiful one at that). It was a few hours away from home, which meant I could find my independence AND still head home any time I wanted to. The handsome financial aid package helped matters, too.
I vividly remember my campus visit to Upper Iowa. It was a steamy day that really tested the strength of your deodorant. My mom and I descended the steps of Parker-Fox Hall and came across a black sign with white letters that read, “Welcome to Upper Iowa University, Michael Becker.” Wendy, the admissions counselor, showed us around campus and answered our questions. I instantly fell in love with that campus.
Following the tour, we met Doc McReynolds, the adviser for The Collegian, UIU’s student-run newspaper. The thing you need to know about Doc is that he’s one-of-a-kind. From the distinct voice to the mutton chop sideburns to the way he bleeds Peacock blue, he’s truly unique. Even if I had not chosen UIU, I’d still remember meeting him to this day.
I can pinpoint exactly when and where I decided to be a Peacock: standing there in The Collegian lab as Doc told us about the paper and handed me a few back issues. I remember saying to myself, “I’m coming back here and I’m gonna be editor.” I knew I was making the right decision when I officially joined the flock.
Flash forward to August 1997 and I was moving into Garbee Hall during freshman orientation week. My family helped bring everything in, and then took off a little later. I was now alone. I’m not ashamed to admit I was a wee bit scared. There were tons of question marks racing through my head. Would people ostracize me because I was a shy little nobody? Was there a barber in town? How the hell was I gonna find my first class on Monday?
But luckily, some future friends showed up a few days later. Guys named Norris and Elsbernd and Lenny (and so many others) showed me the ropes and made me feel like I belonged. The rest, as they say, is history.
I fulfilled my goal of becoming newspaper editor, working my way up to the position halfway through my junior year. At one point or another, I covered every single sport on campus except for football. I started a weekly column titled “The Cock-Eyed View,” where I often stood up for my friends and fellow students in an attempt to make the school a better place. One of my repeated pleas was for students to appreciate UIU’s storied history. So you can imagine how I elated I am that the university now makes its history more accessible than ever before, thanks to the Foster Cass Archives Walk (including the University Archives in Henderson-Wilder Library), online archives of The Collegian, and so much more.
In addition to serving as Collegian editor, I helped form a new fraternity, and discovered confidence I never had in high school. I graduated magna cum laude in four years with a communications degree under my belt. And most importantly, I left UIU with a boatload of true blue (Peacock blue?) friends who are still good friends today.
If you’ve ever seen Back to the Future Part II, you’re familiar with the concept of alternate history (stupid Grays Sports Almanac). I’ve often wondered what my life would be like had I chosen to be a Beaver or a Kohawk instead of a Peacock. Yeah, I still would have received a quality education in the classroom, but my education outside the classroom would have been void of some special people – friends, professors, and other UIU personalities. I look at my life now and it would feel terribly empty without those people in it.
Twenty years ago, I became a part of Upper Iowa. Twenty years later, Upper Iowa is still a part of me.