Monday, July 13, 2015

My memories of Sangamon State

In the summer of 1970 a small storefront office opened on Washington Street. People began showing up to register for higher education classes.

This was something new; a public university was coming to Springfield. Like all government projects it was behind schedule. A campus of several one-story metal buildings was nearing completion by the lake, but until it was done, there were storefront offices and classes in the First Methodist Church.

I was one of those charter students. We were a motley crew....people of all ages and backgrounds. Old ladies, young community college graduates, people who had dropped out, flunked out or previously couldn’t afford much college. There were anti-war peaceniks and ex-Marines who had seen hard duty in Vietnam.

We were there to take a chance on a brand new adventure. We all shared two characteristics: we were local and we had all been someplace else before Sangamon.

This was due to the nature of the university. It had no housing, hadn’t reached beyond central Illinois to attract students and instruction started at the junior year as an intended capstone to the new community colleges in the state.

So both the people who planned SSU and its first students agreed on one shared expectation: Sangamon ought to be different.

One thing that united most on campus was the mission statement which directed Sangamon to be the public affairs university for Illinois. It was logical because of the location in a town which had been the only state capital in the United States without a public university.

The institution changed me, changed all of us. At whatever point in our lives we came, late or early, after previous success or failure, it affected us all profoundly.

Though the Sangamon State name is gone, those early pioneers started an institution which continues in spirit, still growing, still educating, still a vital actor on the Springfield stage. I think all of us from the early days of the university are proud of what we started and what it has become.

This column appeared in the Illinois Times on July 9, 2015.

Read the entire column here.