The evening took a bit of a surprise turn when Robyn L. called out to me and came over to talk. (You could yell above the music if you stood some yards out from the tent.) Robyn had just finished my Catholicism course, and was part of my smaller evening section of it – sections I always enjoy because (surprise! surprise! just like all the educational research shows) the smaller sections are always more academically successful because of the ability for the professor to fully engage each of the students. So Robyn had spoken with me throughout the semester in class, but this was the first time she had really engaged me outside of the class. She began to talk with me about the course, her family and her twin brother's graduation from West Point in a few weeks, her plans in the competitive field of dental school applications. She's got a strong desire to get away from Louisiana for a time (most people from New Orleans, I've noticed, don't want to be anywhere else, in love with their town moreso than anyone I've ever heard outside of Manhattanites, but not nearly so snobby-sounding about it), and that took me a bit by surprise, so we talked about parts of the country where she'd like to live for awhile. In the midst of this, as friends came by to talk with her, she pulled them in briefly and made a point of introducing me.
That she introduced me as her favorite professor at Loyola was a bit of a shock, since she hadn't made a point of talking with me outside of class, which is usually a hint that a student thinks you're doing something successfully. She repeatedly laughed and assured me that, "I'm not trying to kiss your ass," but that she wanted me to know how strongly she felt about what I had been doing in the course. (I assured her that I'd already graded her, so if she was trying to sway my assessment at the end of the semester, she was too late.) Undeterred, she went on, describing how she and another friend in the course, both from Thibodaux, Louisiana, had apparently been struck by the clarity I was able to provide them in giving content and structure to their more nominal Catholic backgrounds, making sense of the context that had always surrounded them, but (in what I regret to say is typical Catholic fashion) had never been explained or passed on very well.
What really then surprised me was to discover that, after I announced that I would not be continuing at Loyola with the completion of my contract, she pulled together a group of students from the course and they apparently got in to see the Dean in her office. I was a bit mortified to hear this (Dean Kruz must have taken it in stride, as she was too polite to mention it to me the last time we spoke in the stairwell). But I was also deeply honored to hear that Robyn's protest included some sort of the complaint that "Everyone is always going on about promoting Jesuit values at the University, but this guy fully embodies that more than anyone we've seen, and you're letting him leave?" If she had been trying to flatter, that was as overwhelming a compliment as I could have received. The Dean, of course, told them that hiring decisions were departmental matters, as I would have had I known they were going to go off to ambush her.
A number of people had gotten only cursory conversation or waved off in how long we were talking, but Jeff R., one of Chris's best friends and another student who had taken my Catholicism course, and who was friends with Robyn, came over and successfully merged into our conversation, perhaps stunning us into availability by the reality-clashing jacket which he had managed to both discover and to wear to the party without suffering a seizure by draping himself that way. He'll be relocating to Loyola Chicago, where he'll be working on a Master's in Education as he begins to teach, and so we talked a bit about his excitement over that work, but mostly, having come into the conversation while Robyn and I were talking geography and places to live or study in the States, he (being a New Orleans native) began talking about "the snow and the cold" with a sound in his voice as though he were talking about moving into the crater of an active volcano, or into the Arctic ice itself. I tried to convey that it was an area full of dramatic weather contrasts, and yes, could be astonishingly vigorous or extreme in the winter (and in the summer, for that matter), but that it was really Not That Big A Deal. But I had to swallow those words, ultimately, as it was obvious to me that someone coming from New Orleans might experience a Great Lakes winter in such alien ways that I couldn't quite imagine the level of shock involved. So we'll see how that goes.
I then found Michael and Alexia, who had earlier ducked into the conversation with Robyn long enough to wave to me. They were all elegant and power couple-looking and taking pictures with friends, but I checked in long enough to say I'd see them on Saturday and to have some brief random songwriting conversation with Michael about the fact that we had both written songs that used rain as a primary metaphor for grace. Leaving them, I worked my way around to where Chris, Jeffrey, Jimmy, Michelle, Alex and Natalie were all hanging out, paying my regards to all of them before cutting out a few minutes before they did, running into them again and speaking for a few minutes as I was unlocking my bike in the quiet behind the bulk of Marquette Hall. They were off to some further rounds off-campus, and I was glad to wrap up a fun day with something as slightly surreal as the prom.