As a child, I spent a week each summer with my aunt, uncle and cousins in Greensboro. The town wasn’t far from our home in Durham (and later Chapel Hill), but I-85 seemed a very long road, and I would always find myself terribly sick for home. My aunt and uncle tried to distract me from my misery with day trips typically involving food, and that is how I was introduced to Yum Yum near UNC-Greensboro.
That hot dog in an impossibly soft bun, served “all the way” with chili and onions that I never would have eaten in any other context and an impressively large serving of mint chocolate chip ice cream in a crispy sugar cone, certainly saved the visit and helped manage my homesickness. At the time, it felt like Yum Yum had saved my life.
It never occurred to me then, of course, that Greensboro would end up as the city that would set my life’s trajectory. Largely as a result of my father letting me know that my potential attendance at UNC-Chapel Hill would mean living at home, I looked to the sister university down the road — UNC-Greensboro. My mother had graduated from Greensboro College, and I had those childhood memories, and Yum Yum was still there down Spring Garden Street. The teacher education program at UNCG cinched the deal, because while my father thought he was sending me to college to become a nurse, I knew I was destined, like my mother, for the classroom.
There was very little that was logical about becoming a double major in English and history with secondary teacher licensure, a choice that greatly worried my father. And then at 19, I decided to study abroad for a summer in a London program offered jointly by UNCG and Guilford College. After stretching the truth just a wee bit about how much money I actually had with which to travel, I hopped on the plane rather against my parents’ wishes. On the first day of class, I discovered that the Guilford professor on the trip, Alex Stoesen, had been my father’s college roommate at The Citadel. That was the first in a set of bizarre coincidences that seemed both destiny and luck. The future would have little to do with clear thinking and everything to do with those factors.
There were only three male students on the London study trip, and I had no interest in any of them since I had a boyfriend from high school I was still dating. But this gangly and somewhat eccentric young man named Ric Morton from the Guilford College crowd took me to dinner in a Greek restaurant and a day later bought me cream-filled pastries, and when we parted to travel Europe in separate directions, I realized I really, really liked him. We returned to the States as a couple. We still are, and we’ve managed to raise three children who are now, gratifyingly, excellent adult people.
Guilford College became as much a home for me as UNCG. Ric’s father, Dick Morton, was an American literature professor there, legendary for his exclamatory style of teaching, and I soon learned how an independent college can be different from a state university. The relationships I formed at Guilford have lasted a lifetime, and the impact of students and teachers talking and thinking together led me to want to teach in such an environment, and later to lead one.
My whimsical decisions to go to UNCG, to major in English and history, to go to London, to make friends at both Guilford and UNCG, to marry that Guilford boy, to pursue teaching and then graduate degrees, landed me first at Queens University of Charlotte and now in Asheville, as the new president of Warren Wilson College.
Without Greensboro, Guilford College and UNCG, my entire life would have happened differently. We can all say that a place or person changed our trajectory, but this feels almost mystical.
Layers of connections to people who somehow all knew one another, an excellent education on two Greensboro campuses and in life, a mid-state city that I never expected to have a lifelong impact on me … Greensboro changed everything. I will always be grateful.