Today was the first day of classes for Kent State University students. And, as usual, we finished the day by hosting our H2O Kickoff event. But, in a more unusual twist, the venue for this year was the Student Green, outdoors, in the heart of campus. It was an interesting experiment. The set pieces (production, music, teaching, etc.) went about as well as could possibly be expected. The people part of our Kickoff night was more intriguing, so I’m still processing some of the interactions that I had throughout the course of the event. But all in all, it was a very successful Kickoff.
At the front end of the event, I spent a while talking with a Fashion Design major who arrived early. The student came from the suburbs of Dallas, Texas: dark skin, long hot-pink hair, the stubble of a mustache and beard, bright make-up, spiky dog-collar choker around the neck. I didn’t ask for preferred pronouns, but now I kind of wish that I had. (I’m going to assume they/them pronouns in the meantime, even though the Grammar Geek in my has a hard time the singular they/them). Their name was Chandler — and they actually ended up winning one of our door prizes! They also filled out a Connect Card and indicated interest in serving on our Production Team… which is all great. But it also made me wonder what sort of conversations may lie in our future…
Towards the end of the message, a quirky kid showed up. He made a bee-line towards the table that had a bunch of (mostly empty) boxes of Papa John’s pizza. The food was originally intended for our Production Team who arrived early. I think he ended up finding a slice of pizza. And he grabbed a half-full two-liter bottle of Orange Crush, as well. It wasn’t a big deal, really. (We probably would have tried to give it away anyway). But then, he came over to the H2O tent where I was posted. And he started leaning over the gift baskets, to the point that I thought he might help himself to one of them, too.
So, I introduced myself. He told me his name was James, and from just the briefest of introductions it became clear that he was somewhere on the autistic spectrum. He told me he was especially interested in the $25 Google Play gift certificate that was in one of the baskets, and he kept asking me when he might have a chance to enter the raffle to win it. I tried to be kind and polite, but it was hard to relax because of the way that he was so fixated on the gift baskets. Nothing significant ended up happening. Still, it made me wonder what kinds of conversations might lie in our future…
After the Kickoff on the Student Green, we got to walk with some students back to Centennial Courts. And I was genuinely encouraged to talk to a number of new people who seemed really lovely, genuinely sociable. They all seemed like they could be promising new Life Group members. But it also became clear that many other aspects of college life were also vying for their attention.
One guy introduced himself to me as Cash. Because he’s so good at playing basketball. A little while later, when a random rapper named Luwop walked up to our group, Cash (another Fashion Design major) started telling him about the clothing line he was trying to develop called Certified Buckets. Because he’s so good at playing basketball. Cash said he was hoping to link up Certified Buckets with some up-and-coming influencers. In the course of our conversation, Cash also mentioned that he had narrowed down his options to five potential fraternities he might rush. And it all made me worry that his chances of “spiritual survival” — or at least fruitful growth in college — are sadly slim. It made me wonder if he would be around for further conversations in the coming weeks.
Today’s college students have so many irons in the proverbial fire. Questions about sexual identity… mental health challenges… career ambitions… competing influences… How do I walk with these students through all this?!?
This week of Kent State University’s Kickoff has felt far more like “pre-pandemic” than “mid-pandemic.” No masks. Nothing in the way of entire residence halls being reserves for students in isolation or quarantine. So that’s encouraging. Still, it feels like the world may have changed forever over the last few years. We may finally at the beginning of the “Post-Christian America” that I’ve been wondering about since Amsterdam. That’s exciting in some ways. But it also carries some sadness and nostalgia. So I’m still processing. And praying. And wondering… and watching.