POSTED ON NOVEMBER 19, 2008:
College Years Revisited
Locked out of a house and locked into a lecture conjures up memories of University days
As children, we all find parental quirks that pester us. I guess it goes both ways. Right, mom?
Throughout my life, I've made declarations about how certain familial behaviors would influence me. I would never be this way or that when I "grew up." Now, as an adult, I find myself slipping on some of those promises.
As a child, I vowed never to swear. It seemed crude and harsh. That didn't last. Swearing can be crude and harsh -- I now find it quite useful. It's also an effective means to express displeasure. You know this. At one time I did not. I was so naïve.
One of my mother's more customary actions was to misplace her keys. It was a pet peeve of mine, but possibly because it, without fail, elicited a "Well, where did you last have them?" from my father. I always thought, if she knew that, the keys wouldn't be lost.
Losing my keys isn't something I do more regularly than any of my peers, but I've adopted a new time consuming habit akin to my mother's situation with her keys. I've taken to locking myself out of the house. Last weekend marked my third time this year. It's not something I had ever done prior to moving here. But, I don't think that Tulsa's to blame.
It was Friday night, November 7. Evolutionary biologist Neil Shubin, who I'd seen on Comedy Central's Colbert Report, was to present his lecture, "Finding Your Inner Fish," at the University of Tulsa.
I'd been looking forward to attending a lecture at the University for some time, but was having trouble finding one that fit my schedule. When I heard it mentioned on NPR, I thought, yep, that will do, and penciled it in.
I'd take my bag, walk to campus and take in the lecture. It'd be a perfect reminder of college life. I'd even take notes.
The trek started out less than satisfying, as I alluded earlier.
Do I have everything? Yes. Yes, I do. It's cold. I better take a jacket. Okay, Isaac, remember to really slam that door. Sometimes it hangs.
"Dammit!" Forgot the keys.
I paused and considered my options, but settled on walking to the lecture, temporarily forgetting about forgetting the keys. That pause, coupled with several wrong turns once on campus, resulted in my own tardiness.
As I made my way toward where I thought the Allen Chapman Activity Center was, I, after checking my watch, realized I needed to pick up the pace. This was eerily similar to the first day of classes. Although I had been to the activity center prior to the lecture, I had yet to visit it on foot - a fact that became glaringly obvious the first time I slowed my speed-walking in order to think, Wait, that isn't the building. I thought it was right here.
I knew I was close and later realized I was just a block or two south of where I needed to be. After making my way through a parking lot and a soccer field, I arrived. Signs pointed me in the right direction.
Sudoku Not Needed
Even with Neil Shubin's past success and popularity, I fully expected to enter the lecture hall and interrupt the event. I'd have to uncomfortably apologize for the creaking door and do my best to quietly take my seat. In reality, I had no seat. They were all taken (I'd later get one thanks to the helpful TU staff). I estimate there were some 600 people in attendance.
The lecture itself was littered with biological jargon that, again, transformed me back into the science major I was five years ago. The evolutionary link Mr. Shubin has discovered, buried in the fossil records of the northern Canadian province of Nunavat in the area of Ellesmere Island, between fish and amphibians is fundamental to our understanding of how life evolved onto land. For some, this scientific evidence is controversial and challenging, but you wouldn't know it from the atmosphere in the room.
Mr. Shubin had a way of injecting humor into an academic speech about a 370 million-year-old fossil (known as the Tiktaalik) that not every scientist has the ability to do. He made science interesting, fascinating, and fun - the mark of an excellent educator.
I recorded notes on everything from sedimentary rocks to the geographical makeup of Greenland and the Catskill Mountains during the Devonian period. Outside of the previous sentence I don't know where or for what purpose I will ever use that information, but I contentedly jotted it down nevertheless.
While Professor Shubin, the associate dean of organismal and evolutionary biology at the University of Chicago and the provost of academic affairs at the Field Museum, explained the transition from fins and scales to a neck and wrists, I found myself mechanically craning my neck in an awkward self-confirmation of his evolutionary explanation.
After the lecture, Mr. Shubin accepted questions from the audience. I found this portion of the evening to be as entertaining as the lecture itself, as several in attendance pushed Mr. Shubin to comment on the relationship between faith and science. Others simply wanted to know why some people were hairier than others. The professor handled both by doing the best to answer the question while reminding the inquisitor that he did study fish.
The scene after the event included a book signing, group discussions on genetics and adaptation and a debate about which case of beer one should to take to a party.
I gathered my bag and waited for an invitation to the party or for a familiar face to rehash the Tiktaalik, but eventually made my way outside.
Walking across campus I saw friends gathering for rabble rousing. Behind those dorm room doors were heated games of beer pong. I felt like the new kid at school- underappreciated and ignored.
Instead of crashing the TU party, I enjoyed the fresh air, pondered cultural evolution, and mentally prepared for climbing into my window.
Damn! I hope I left one unlocked.
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