Wednesday, March 07, 2012

You Can't Go Home Again

The other day two of my fellow grads from my graduate program and I happened to all be in town at the same time and decided to get together because we had not seen each other in a while. One of us still lives here on a regular basis and still has regular contact with the Theatre Department. I'm only here from time to time, and the other hadn't been here in a a couple of years.

We all graduated in 2007, and it's hard to believe it's been five years since we left a program that was a very integral part of our lives for three years. Since then, another graduate class has come and gone, and a new one is about halfway through the program.

It was fun to catch up with one another and talk about what we knew of our remaining class (there were 13 of us total) and to discuss what we had taken from the program and what we had chosen to discard.

When we attended the university from 2004-2007 the economy was better, the theatre program was more robust, and its reputation more solid. Now, it seems like a shell of its former self. This particular university is going through major budget cuts. Faculty members have been let go, programs have been eliminated and butchered, assistantships have been reduced. It's not the same program my friends and I attended.

We took a little tour of the campus we had once roamed so often and walked down the hallways and in the classrooms that had literally felt like our home. It felt strange. First of all, the place seemed abandoned; not nearly as vibrant as I remember it being when I attended. Second, it just seemed like there was hardly anyone there we knew anymore. This had once been the center of our lives, and now it was like visiting an almost unfamiliar place lacking in any of the warmth and comfort I had felt when I was attending.

We were also here as graduates rather than as students. We've all matured and aged. One friend said she wished she had had the same maturity then as she feels she has now. I knew what she meant. I was one of the oldest in my class, and I think it served me well. I actually am more out-of-shape than I was then, and I wondered if my body would even be able to handle what we did then. It probably would after a while of conditioning, but just the thought of the physical and mental requirements of the program actually wore me out.

In the Theatre Department itself two major program emphases were cut entirely, and two were combined. The faculty has changed somewhat as well. While my two main professors are still there, much of the faculty has been eliminated or have moved on to other things. The program no longer feels as prestigious as it once did, and I think that's sad because I really enjoyed it a lot. I'm so glad I went when I did rather than now. I just wish the current students were getting the kind of program I had. Maybe it's still good, but I have heard from several sources that morale is low and that the quality of the program is not what it once was. It's really too bad.

I also hear it's much harder to pay for now. When I was there, we got assistantships to help us pay for school. They still have them, but not as many, so not all students get the same advantage I did.

We did see a professor we knew (who, rumor has it, is also on his way out) as well as some of the administrative staff, who remembered us well.

It was fun to get together with my friends and catch up. We all agreed we were glad we had attended when we did and not today.

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