Transformations

Personal stories of growth at Eckerd College

Charlie Stripling '68

Discovering Who I Was Meant To Be

Growing up on my family's farm in deep SW Georgia, I was, from my earliest memories, told that I "had to go" to college and that I could go to any college that I wanted. I was told this, not because it was natural for my family members to go to college (only my father's mother, of our entire extended family, had a college degree, junior college at that), but because my father, an outstanding student, had seen his dreams of college fade and die when his mother drove over one day during his freshman year and brought him back home to take over the bankrupt (think Great Depression) farm. He was determined that his children would go to college, and began a college fund as soon as my sister and I were born, even as his farm was just beginning to emerge from the threat of bankruptcy.

As a hard-working and highly intelligent farmer, my father gradually became a wealthy man, so that by the time I was in high school, I knew that I would not lose my chance at college because of family finances. And rather than "having to go" to college, I embraced the idea with fervor, because I was ready to leave the rural lifestyle of the Deep South. My parents had raised me to value academics, and I excelled in what was a surprisingly strong local school system. I also was an avid reader of a wide array of scholarly material outside of school. I had been raised to be hard-working, honest and trustworthy, and, more importantly, raised to believe that I had a duty to make the world a better place. Still, the constraints, the prejudices, stereotypical thinking, and at times smothering atmosphere of my hometown kept me from feeling truly at home. But where would I go to college?

When my father said I could go anywhere, he really meant to any school in Georgia, and maybe nearby FSU. But then I got lucky. My sister, raised, as I was, in the Presbyterian Church, was two years older and thus went through the college application routine ahead of me. She opted for Wesleyan College in Macon, Georgia, and became the first person of all of our large number of kin to receive a four-year degree. Left behind in her room, along with other college brochures, was one from an exciting, innovative, new college in St. Petersburg, Florida, and even better, it was named Florida Presbyterian.

From my first encounter with that brochure and subsequent information that I received, I felt an excitement about my future that I had never felt before - a different kind of college in an exotic location (OK, so if you live in SW GA, lots of places seem exotic). And the ace in the hole was the name - Florida Presbyterian College. Would my parents have let me go to a new college that was clearly far different from what they expected college to be, and a long way from home also (again, distance is relative to expectations)? With the name "Presbyterian", my future was secure. My parents, strict Presbyterians, while not happy with my going that far from home, certainly were happy that I was going to a college affiliated with our church.

So, in August of 1964, I arrived at FPC, never having set foot on the campus or talked to anyone who had ever attended or worked at the college. And after the first week or so, I realized that I had made the right choice. I was, indeed, in another world. I loved my fellow students, my professors, the residence houses, the location (not the food), and I quickly came to feel at home for the first time in my life (having met a certain young lady named Patsy Hackney also had a lot to do with this good feeling). I excelled academically, but even more than academics, I rejoiced in the emphasis on ideas and the interrelatedness of all knowledge. I loved the climate and the intramural program, had good relationships with other students, and to use a phrase from those times, felt as if I had finally become an "authentic" person. In other words, I felt transformed. And yet, what I felt transformed into was a person of intelligence and academic skill, someone trustworthy and hard-working, who wanted to make the world a better place - really, the same attributes with which I had been raised by my parents. My transformation was not that I was a different person, but that the best parts of my upbringing had come to the fore, and the narrowness and prejudices of small-town life had dropped away.

Trying to understand life can be incredibly complex at times, but to some extent I am able to understand mine in as simple a manner as 2 + 2 = 4. I was raised the right way by my parents, and I went to the right college (where I met the right girl); and ever since and always, I will be the person of that equation, the person I was meant to be.