Yale is a (relatively) non-pretentious Ivy, valuing diversity and exploration. Every speech we heard pushed the idea of taking risks to study topics outside of the usual, joining groups that will challenge and change you, spending time with people from different cultures and backgrounds. Sort of sounds like missionary values, without the God part. Someone in our family turned down two different Ivy's in the old days, both for undergrad and grad school, partly because of the incredibly entitled and arrogant atmospheres there (and because of money, which is ironically a complete reversal of the current situation where these schools have the best financial aid and essentially complete scholarships for lots of kids like ours). So we were relieved to find Yale quite different. Pleasant and welcoming, celebratory and engaging. And full of fascinating people from everywhere. In Luke's suite alone: a young man from Singapore with a mom from New Jersey who just finished two years post-high school in the military, a young man from NYC with a German mother and American dad, a young man with a dad from Costa Rica and an American mom who moved from Maryland to Costa Rica three years ago and played in the Under-17 World Cup Football tournament in Nigeria, a young man whose Lebanese family raised him in Paris until they moved to Texas 7 years ago, a young man who rows on the crew team (the only one as far as I can tell with 2 American parents and growing up in America his whole life). All of these boys are polite, friendly, intelligent kids with very involved and helpful families. Nice. I'm sure there will be difficult situations elsewhere involving pressure to conform to unwise and unholy choices, it won't all be pleasant hand-shakes and small talk (did we mention the sobering "no glove no love" bag of items taped to the wall in the hallway as a public health measure?). But these are great kids with strong families behind them.
Back to the pomp and glory of Yale's weekend. We filed through the Master's house of the residential college, shaking hands with the Master and Dean and then munching fruit cups and cheese squares with other parents and students. We filed through the Presidents mansion, shaking hands again and gaping like bumpkins at original works by Degas, Pissaro, Rembrandt, Chagall on the walls. It was like an art museum in an historic home. Then lemonade on the spacious lawn. We listened to a panel discussion on the academics at Yale, the structure of the residential colleges (a really great way that the vastness of the University becomes manageable), and a parent-assuring session on the security system that makes the open campus in downtown New Haven safer. We ate lunch in Luke's dining hall with its wood-paneled walls, portraits, high ceilings, and long wooden tables. But the best part was the opening ceremony, sort of a bookend to the eventual graduation, where the students dressed up and sat in the cathedral-like hall, the parents watched from the balcony seats, the prefessors and deans paraded in their academic robes. And in deference to Yale's puritan roots, the majestic organ led us in singing a beautiful hymn (God of All Peoples, which you might recognize as God of our Fathers . . ). The Dean gave an interesting speech connecting depictions of scribes on ancient Mayan pottery to the dangers of standing for truth in any age. And the President spoke about Yale students changing the world. It was all very inspiring and dignified.
But because God is God, and delights in small details in our stories that come as unexpected connections and gifts, my favorite moment of the weekend came early Saturday morning. We had just driven in (from spending the night with Scott's very gracious high school buddy who lives about half an hour away). Scott went to the free parking lot for parents that was about a mile away, and I went to find Luke, because we had agreed to meet a family who contacted us through the blog and also has a son starting at Yale this year. Our rendezvous point was the Batel chapel, where I had not yet been. Luke and I tried several doors and as we finally entered, an organist was practicing. This majestic church of stone and stained glass was completely empty except for me, Luke, and the glorious strains of "How Firm a Foundation". Now, to understand why I burst into tears, you have to know that the FIRST time I heard this hymn almost exactly 18 years ago, I also cried. I was pregnant with Luke after losing three children, we were visiting McLean Pres with my sister as part of our support-raising to go to Uganda, and my heart was broken with grief. When we stood to sing from Isaiah "when through the deep waters I cause you to go, the rivers of sorrow shall not overflow . . . when through fiery trials your pathway shall lie, my grace all sufficient shall be your supply, the flames shall not hurt you I only design, your dross to consume and your gold to refine" it was like God directly addressing my heart.
What are the odds that the same song would come back to me in such power, the only really alone moment I had with the person who had grown from a fetus to reach what is culturally his last day of childhood? So I can be forgiven for the teary hug, and thankful there was no one else to make Luke embarrassed, and grateful that these kind of musical themes, small details, come as gifts to one unimportant individual among billions. A gesture of assurance, that this is the right place, that we move ahead in this crazy life for God, for country, and for Yale.