Southwest Texas (as it will always be, to me)

This past weekend one of my fellow Southwest Texas classmates passed away suddenly. His name was Grant, and from the limited time I got to spend with him I can tell you he was just a wonderful guy. We weren’t close, but I remember him greeting me warmly always & being too smart for his own good. Non-stop smile. At the center of every party.

When I found out on Facebook, where I find out everything these days, a wave of sadness came over me. As more and more classmates (who WERE close to him) posted their feelings, it became harder to ignore. By this morning—more bittersweet posts—I felt the urge to write something about this group of people that are so much more than “classmates.”

I don’t know if I’ve ever written much about my time at Southwest Texas. I can honestly say I remember little to nothing of whatever book knowledge I was supposed to learn while I was there. I have since complained many times about my choice to become a theatre major in the first place. Why didn’t I get a business degree? Or something I could actually make a decent wage doing? Did I really take a class called Magic, Ritual & Religion?

Our theatre building is surrounded by a moat, which says a lot about our college experience. It was pretty isolated, but the theatre department itself was so robust that it never felt that way. There were always new people coming in and older ones leaving, and your circles of friends might change from year to year, but the department itself felt like one thing you were always a part of.

Theatre is one of the only majors where you spend the majority of the time in community with other people. Every class involves collaborative scene work, every directing scene involved getting to know another group of people, every main stage or one act play meant a new experience with the same familiar faces. I don’t know if other majors allow for such interaction amongst people, but what those experiences taught me was worth all the tuition money, the campus parking tickets, and whatever permanent damage I did to my body ingesting that dorm food.

The time there taught me how to be a decent human being to all kinds of people. It taught me about acceptance and non-judgment (there were tons of weirdos like me in the department), and it showed me what it felt like to be accepted. I really do feel like there was a unique place for us all. Where else could I actually be elected as president as something (with a dramatic re-vote, even)? Where else could I form a band that people would come see? Creativity, individuality, and above all else—a sense of humor— were honored and encouraged. Something about this universal acceptance meant we could become the best of ourselves or at least give it a shot. It gave us the courage to move full speed ahead with our lives after college, even though at the time there is no way we could recognize the gift we had been given or that not everyone we would meet in life would share the same philosophies as those in that red theatre building.

We gossiped, we complained, we wanted to leave by the time our senior years came around—but we also loved every minute of those naps in the greenroom, the cast parties we went to even when we weren’t in the show, the rehearsals for yet another directing scene we were persuaded to be in, the BBQ club we attended every Friday.

I met my best friends at that school. Even the good friends I met there are better than most. I couldn’t even put into words what my friendship with Chuck has meant to me over the past 15 years. When I moved to L.A. with Chuck, we had a few phone numbers of college friends who were already out there written on a sad piece of paper. They became our lifeline to any kind of a social life. When I moved to New York City and thought I didn’t know a soul, it was my college friends that took me out to bars, ran with me through Central Park, & made me feel like I belonged. It amazed me that the moat wasn’t the thing keeping us all on an island together. It was some unspoken agreement that we were all going to be supportive of one another no matter what paths we took.

Even now, when I’m out of the loop with most of them, they feel like the best safety net I had the gift of stumbling upon. Their loss is my loss. Their joys are my joys. I have a wonderful, amazing family back in Texas & one never thinks that you will just GET another one of those handed to you. Texas State was that experience for me. I just wanted to take a minute to say THANK YOU to all of you I crossed paths with at that school. If I can create any semblance of the feeling of acceptance, love, laughter and support in my own classroom (as a theatre teacher) that you so kindly gave me all those years ago—I would feel like I’ve done something worthwhile. As my friends feel a sense of loss and sadness about losing one of our own, know that I’m thinking of you all & sending the best thoughts your way.