Dogged Serendipity

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John and Buster the dog ride bike across campusI got a dog. His name is Buster. He is big and yellow, and he has floppy ears.

I had forgotten how having a dog opens up conversations that never would have happened otherwise. Students, professors, my fellow college staffers and strolling townsfolk all want to visit Buster, and so they end up having to visit with me, too.

Through the years–the Oscar years and the Dodger years–some of those conversations have turned into stories in the Davidson Journal and on the college website. Some have not.

I have come to understand that these serendipitous conversations are where much of the real education happens at a small, residential, liberal arts college like Davidson. Not once in my years here has an attentive stroll or bike roll across this campus failed to yield some enriching little smidge of human relationship with a fellow Davidsonian.

Disproportionate Impact
We need those little smidges of human relationship now more than ever, at Davidson and far beyond. I think that this is the plainest and simplest part of what President Quillen means when she speaks of the “disproportionate impact” of Davidson alumni in the world.

Sometimes, passing campus contacts are just about sharing bits of day-to-day data. Sometimes, actual information is imparted, sometimes real knowledge, and once in a blue moon, genuine wisdom. Also the odd joke or off-color commentary. Yes, real humans still exchange that sort of content where the trees have no ears, even at Davidson.

And that, too, is part of a “real education.”

More specifically, learning the difference between private and public conversation is a distinction fundamental to education and its effective deployment in the world. It is also a distinction trampled regularly underfoot, in the conversational wind sprints we’re all running back and forth from one digital domain, social network, SMS account and personal media platform to the next.

Real and Perceived
Honestly: What’s real and solid anymore? What’s virtual and perceived? What does it even mean, in late 2015, to say, “Perception is reality”?

Enter Buster and his big ol’ floppy ears.

For a dog, who is always honest, perception is reality from one moment to the next. [Q: What’s a dog’s favorite moment in the day? A: Now. Now. Now. Now. Now. Now….]

And in a very real and solid way, strolling or rolling across campus with Buster reminds me of the real, authentic, inherent, easy friendliness of this place.

Davidson has long and intentionally prided itself on being such a friendly place, a place where we acknowledge one another in greeting as we pass on the campus we share. I sense a distraction from this manner of late (I blame earbuds), but I think it’s still part of who we are, and want to be.

Consider the following from a 1952-53 freshman handbook: “Speak to everybody. Do your share to further Davidson’s reputation as a friendly campus.

“Forget that you came from any particular preparatory or high school.”

The letter of those laws is antiquated. Their spirit is not.

As I write in mid-December, students have just left campus after their final, final exams. The campus looks empty, but it’s not. It’s still filled with this spirit of meeting and greeting, primed for that next smile shared in passing between fellow strangers, that greeting by name of a potential new best friend, that shade-tree visit with an old acquaintance never to be forgot.

It’s up to us.

Happy New Year, and here’s to Davidson College, opening up conversations that never would have happened otherwise.

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About Author

John Syme '85

Senior Writer John Syme graduated from Davidson with a French degree in 1985. After gigs in newspaper, advertising, translation in France and cross-country travel writing in the United States, he returned to alma mater in 2001. He has no immediate plans to graduate again.

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