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There are certain moments from our shared history at Southern that will forever be scrawled in graduates’ hearts and minds, such as eating pile after pile of haystacks in the Dining Hall, laughing as ducks hold up traffic at the entrance to campus, and relishing the smell of Little Debbie snack cakes hovering over campus.
Although we can never actually rewind and relive those years, Alumni Homecoming Weekend, October 25-28, provides opportunities to embrace many of these same experiences once more. And along with the lighthearted moments already mentioned, Homecoming’s networking, fellowship, and worship opportunities make the event a tool for future growth, not simply a time to celebrate our past. Just how important is Homecoming? Ask these participants, who travel from near and far to keep the amazing friendships they began at Southern alive.
Vining remembers a time when there was not a paved road in or around Collegedale. At Southern Junior College (SJC), Vining was a twelve-year graduate with the two-year college combined class. He gained lots of hands-on experience learning business and graphic arts as a student worker at the College Press on campus. His time there sparked an interest in technology and the graphic arts that would aid him well throughout his career.
After five years at SJC, he went on to receive his degree from Emmanuel Missionary College (renamed Andrews University in 1959). Vining served as a medic with the Army Air Corps from before Pearl Harbor until the end of World War II, and then worked for many years in a variety of positions in publishing all around the world. For a while, he was kept away from Homecoming by sheer distance as he lived in areas such as England and the Philippines, but all that changed when in 1966 he was invited to be the manager of the College Press, where he stayed until 1985.
Since coming back to the area, Vining has rarely missed a Homecoming. The high-point of the weekend for him is the Friday noon lunch with the men in the Student Park, where he is able to meet with old friends. He misses the So-Ju-Conian Dinners, replaced because of fewer numbers, by the dinner with both Junior College and Missionary College students. The antique car show on Sunday is also a favorite.
“It is important to keep up ties with your alma mater,” Vining said. “If you don’t, you’re missing a real fine fellowship experience. I enjoy going every year to keep up with my classmates who are still able to attend.”
Of the more than forty Homecomings Vining has attended, the Homecoming of 2003 sticks out as particularly memorable.
“That year they asked me to have grace at the So-Ju-Conian dinner. I took the occasion to introduce my family,” Vining said. “We had members of my family from every stage of the university: myself and my wife from Southern Junior College, my two children, graduates of Southern Missionary College, and my grandchildren, graduates of Southern College and Southern Adventist University. It was very special, and I will never forget it.”
Hannum still remembers the crisp sound of his voice announcing pieces by Beethoven and Bach on WSMC Classical 90.5 in the ’60s.
“It was a big responsibility for a student,” he recalled. “Back then, the station was student-run, and students were involved in everything from announcing to managing and hiring. It was a powerful experience.”
After graduation, Hannum became a communications professor at Southern for 11 years and served as director of broadcasting during most of those years when the title and responsibility of “manager” was relegated to students. He attended many Homecomings and was even the vice president (president elect) of the alumni association. Afterward, he moved on to become executive producer of Faith for Today and then a communications professor at Walla Walla University. Although he lives far away in Washington state, when he heard that there would be a major emphasis on WSMC at the 2011 Homecoming, he couldn’t resist flying across the country to get reacquainted with the great friends and students that graced his life at Southern.
Although he enjoyed the entire experience, a special moment was when he returned an old baseball mitt to student and friend, Ray Minner, ’70. Some forty years ago, Hannum had wound up with Minner’s mitt by mistake. Over the years, Hannum’s children had grown up playing catch with the mitt, and as he headed back for the reunion, he brought it along. During an event on Friday evening, Hannum revealed the mitt in front of everyone, told the story of how he had ended up with it, and tossed it back to Minner. They all laughed as Minner caught it and made an impromptu speech about how he remembered losing it so many years before. Not a year later, Minner suddenly passed away. Hannum is grateful that he chose to attend Homecoming and had the opportunity to return the mitt and have those special moments with his old classmate.
After a rocky childhood, Lazor became a teenager who was addicted to drugs, alcohol, and a partying lifestyle. As he grew older, he began to realize that his present lifestyle wasn’t sustainable or desirable. Although he tried several times, he found it hard to leave those bad habits behind. At the age of 20, for the first time in his life, he fell down on his knees and prayed to God for strength to overcome. Since that day, he has never used drugs or alcohol. Not long afterward, he became an Adventist and felt called to the gospel ministry, which brought him to Southern.
Along with becoming equipped for his future profession, it was at Southern where Lazor formed some of the strongest, most nurturing friendships he had ever known. Since then, Lazor has made keeping up with his classmates from Southern a priority by attending Homecoming.
“I actually started going to Homecoming while I was still a student,” Lazor remembered. “It was fun, and I thought it was a good way to keep in touch with my friends who had already graduated.”
After Lazor graduated and became busy with his career as a pastor and as the director of a self-supporting ministry, he kept up his tradition of attending Homecoming. He has ministered in foreign countries, with short-term mission trips to places such as Thailand, Romania, and the Philippines. Most recently, his ministry has led him to Hawaii, where he has been living for 15 years. In spite of all this, he has not let distance come between him and his friendships. Since 1980, he has attended Homecoming 24 times.
When Lazor comes, he takes part in almost every event, from Sabbath programs to the afternoon men’s lunch. Of all of the homecomings he has come to, his favorite was his 25-year-reunion because so many of his classmates attended.
“I love it,” he said. “The programs are good, the food is good, and the fellowship is my favorite part of all. It is a highlight of my year.”
Even as a little girl alongside her missionary parents in Bangladesh, Norris knew medicine was her calling.
“I saw the need that people had, and I wanted to help them get better,” Norris remembered.
To further that dream, Norris pursued a strenuous double major in pre-med biology and pre-physical therapy at Southern. In spite of her heavy workload, she enjoyed her studies, especially in the areas of botany and zoology. Her classes took her beyond the textbooks with canoeing, bird-watching, camping in the Smoky Mountains to observe flora, traveling on field trips to see wildlife in Florida, and scuba-diving in the coral reefs of Belize to examine firsthand the natural phenomena that she was studying. In her free time, Norris connected with a group of friends who shared her interests and together they went on exciting local outdoor excursions such as hiking and caving almost every weekend.
After graduating, Norris was still up in the air about which direction she wanted to pursue a career, so she took a year off to go as a student missionary to Palau. Overseas, she spoke so warmly of her time at Southern that her missionary companion was inspired to enroll as a result. Once Norris returned home, much prayer and deliberation led her to pursue chiropractic training, which she believed combined the best parts of both biology and physical therapy.
Today, Norris practices in Collegedale and takes every opportunity to immerse her children in the same natural phenomena she explored as a college student. In the seven years since she moved back, she has attended Homecoming each year and plans to keep up the tradition. Norris believes Homecoming is a great opportunity to attend uplifting programs plus keep up with the many changes that are happening at the school. She makes a point to attend vespers, the worship service, and the Saturday evening program whenever she can, but she enjoys the post-worship potluck most of all.
“I like the potluck because you can get around and talk to lots of different people,” Norris said. “In a busy world, it’s a good way to take some time out to reconnect. It’s a special opportunity to reminisce about the past, catch up on the present, and encourage one another in our hopes for the future.”
Growing up in an urban neighborhood in northern Alabama, Michaels saw many inequalities around her that she wanted to change. Realizing her passion for social justice issues, Michaels decided to attend Southern because of its strong Christian values and the opportunity to engage within a diverse environment.
As a double major in history and international studies (Spanish), Michaels stayed busy, holding offices in the Black Christian Union in her free time. Upon graduating, she went through a competitive application process for a position working for Teach for America, a non-profit organization that aims to close the achievement gap by enlisting high-achieving recent college graduates and professionals to teach for two or more years in low-income urban and rural communities throughout the United States. Currently, Michaels works on a team which provides teaching corps members the training and on-going support to develop the necessary conviction, skill, and insight to become life-long, transformational leaders within the education reform movement.
In addition to her work with Teach For America, Michaels dedicates time to coordinate an annual Black Christian Union alumni reunion, which takes place during Homecoming. Since the year of its inception in 2009, the aim of the reunion has been to encourage young Southern alumns who identify as persons of color to return to the university, connect with peers and professors, and forge mentoring relationships with current students.
During last year’s reunion events, Michaels facilitated a small discussion on “Life After College” in Pierson Chapel with a few Black Christian Union club members. Many Southern alums and professors attended and shared their personal experience on how they navigated their first few years after graduating from college. The conversation was very motivating, and Michaels can hardly wait to attend Homecoming again this October to check in with some of the students that she met last year, and meet new students. Although she enjoyed it all, one of Michaels’ favorite events of Homecoming is the Friday night vespers.
“Attending vespers and then afterglow really made me feel like I was experiencing Southern all over again—all except for handing in my vespers card,” she laughed. “It really made me feel like I was still a part of the community.”