Home at the Dome
On November 18, alumni board member Melissa Flowers was the featured speaker at Tuesday Reflection, a short service held each Tuesday morning in Ascension Chapel. A senior majoring in English and speech communication, Melissa spoke on the importance of Old Main, both literal and symbolic, to student learning at Augustana. The following is an excerpt from her talk.
My friends will tell you that when it comes to Augustana, I’m a little obsessed. Even in the first months of attending here, I knew I’d found a place I could call home. I dove into my classes, choir, campus ministries, and chocolate chip cookies with enthusiasm. I felt lucky to find a place that was an extension of who I was in high school. I loved my school so much that I applied to work in the admissions office, and I proudly traipsed across campus with prospective families, hailing Augustana and its glory.
Today, I am still as enthusiastic. The lens through which I see my college experience has expanded, but I still greatly value Augustana, from its slough path, to its chocolate chip cookies, and yes, to its dome. My friends can also tell you about my infamous comment where, gazing up at the dome, I wondered aloud, “Where else can you find such a dome?” to be answered with a sassy, “Oh I don’t know, maybe the capitol, or Rome.” For what Old Main’s top may lack in splendor — and although the building upon which it sits may offer pounding pipes and dilapidated desks — it is not its material structure that affords it such value. Rather, it is what I’ve learned from within its walls, and how it stands as a symbol for what Augustana has been these past four years: indeed my home at the dome...
Old Main’s dome is the highest point on campus. As you cross the Centennial Bridge from Davenport, you can see it on the hill. Though old, it continues to stand as a literal icon for Augustana College, regally presented on billboards and brochures. But it’s not simply the image that makes it the showcase of my reflection… the dome plays a part in how I conceive of the Augustana community. As one of the oldest remnants of a college constantly in flux, the dome remains. We may build, bury, remodel or renovate, but prospective and current students, faculty, staff and alumni are tied by the community the dome represents. At a recent alumni board meeting I attended, the future of Old Main’s dome came up. There were questions about its restoration and the enormity of the project, but everyone agreed the dome must remain, because it stood for Augustana and a community that lasts longer than the four years that I wandered around this campus.
The importance of community — and not only of Augustana students past and present — is one of the greatest lessons I’ve learned since my arrival at Augustana. Yes, I’ve learned chemistry, geology, literary criticism, agenda-setting theory and Scandinavian music (to name a few), but those lessons would be worthless without a community in which to engage in these ideas. I value the in-class experiences I’ve had, because I can bring them outside the classroom and become more than a student of the book or of the PowerPoint; I become a student of my community. To become a student of the community is not something that comes quickly, and it is not something at which I am an expert. What I’ve found, though, is that when I stopped focusing on classes as just that, classes, and start seeing them as opportunities to serve and to grow with others, the lessons become far more valuable...
The way I visualize the application of classroom material is with the image of an expanding dome, which starts as one that covers Old Main, but then I start to see little domes cropping up over the local soup kitchen, or the animal shelter, or an elementary school. As we all leave the campus to graduate, we should bring the dome with us, to the new communities we serve. In this way, we make the places in which we learn homes. Just as a home nurtures and teaches, so too does a community. The point is that we must give to our communities if they are to give back to us in this way. These places transform from simply being classrooms and dorm rooms, to being homes where we can engage in the community we serve.
It will be in those opportunities to serve that I can make a home for myself outside of Augustana, thus bringing the dome with me to a new community, whether it’s in my cubicle or my neighborhood. I won’t always have classes to go to, papers to write, and speeches to give at Tuesday Reflection, but I will always have the lessons I learned and be able to take them to new places to make them homes, too.
From left, Two workers on the dome (date unknown); view from Seminary Hill (1923); a classroom in Old Main (1892); and the homecoming parade down 7th Avenue for soldiers returning from World War I (June 8, 1919)
For more photos, see www.augustana.edu/oldmain.