The Back Story
This is probably going to be a fairly long story as it all started around 5 years or so ago. I’m a bit sketchy on dates but according to the trusty Facebook timeline, my daughter Alexandra became friends (on Facebook) with Nell Tebbetts in 2009, quit Deakin university in 2010 and started at Lyon College in 2011. I think Alex and Nell had met earlier via forums due to a shared interest and some collaboration in story writing.
I remember Nell visiting us here in Ballarat and a few day trips and whatnot and then it became a bit of a roller coaster during the following months as we pursued a student visa, college application and other blurred memories. I remember being a little bit apprehensive – my daughter wanting to go to another continent to study, and all I really knew was what she told me about the college, and that Nell seemed to be a sensible, quirky (in a good way) American :).
As I think back now it reminds me of the trust I had (and still have) in Alexandra. She had, to that point, been the almost-perfect child. I know parents always say that sort of thing, but she had always been very honest, worked hard at school, never did anything rash or irresponsible and always cared a lot about her friends and family. She didn’t ever try to be a part of the ‘in’ crowd or pretend to be someone she is not. I knew very little about where she was going, who she would be with or what the future would bring, but I knew she wouldn’t be doing this unless she was totally comfortable and sure of what she was getting in to.
Given my relatively sparse knowledge of the USA, and my complete lack of knowledge about Arkansas, it did seem to be a strange place to study and I guess it worried me a little. My first thoughts were probably of spittoons, long beards and moonshine, but given that Nell didn’t chew tobacco, have any facial hair or brew her own alcohol I figured it would probably be okay :). What was also clear was their strong friendship. They spent many hours online, doing whatever it is that best friends and creative writer types do.
Something I did know at the time was that Alex wasn’t enjoying university at all. She was working hard and putting a lot of time in but she didn’t like how her course was going and was having some bouts of depression. She wasn’t sure that she had chosen the right course and the university wasn’t really able to offer what she really wanted anyway. Given that Alex had always been quite happy and positive it was a worry to see how troubled she was with university.
The cost was another issue of course. I was making just enough to get by, so I had no idea how I could afford to put Alex through college in the USA. This is the point at which Nell and the Tebbetts family made it all happen. I can’t possibly overstate how important they have been over the past 4 years. Without their support there is no way that Alex could have studied at Lyon College. Period. They really did embrace Alex like a member of their own family and I will be eternally grateful for their selfless generosity.
The change in Alex and her personal growth over the past four years has been nothing short of remarkable. She has become a very well rounded, confident adult, due in no small part to the support and the environment provided by the Tebbetts family and Lyon College. Her college workload has been huge – studying a triple major and continually achieving excellent results which have culminated in her graduation with highest honours (summa cum laude).
My Journey to the USA
In my 52 years I’ve never travelled further than North Queensland, so my first trip to the USA was a really big deal. My first worry was the fact that I was a smoker – the thought of 20+ hours on various aircraft was a little bit scary. Also, the Tebbetts family had been kind enough to offer me a place to stay for the 10 days that I would be in the USA and given that none of the Tebbetts family smoked I really wanted to be smoke free on my arrival. With that scary thought, I decided to quit before departing. I had been a 30+ per day smoker so during the last week before my departure I cut down to 6-8 cigs per day. That worked well – I had my final cigarette just after parking my car at the Tullamarine long term car park and I didn’t have any particularly strong urges after that time. I am now a non-smoker.
There were 3 flights to get to my destination. Melbourne to LA, LA to Denver and Denver to Little Rock. I arrived at Little Rock around 11:40PM and was greeted by Alex and her friend Cody who was kind enough to be our driver for the final leg from Little Rock to Batesville. I spent that first night in a spare bed in Alex’s room at Nell’s house and then met Nells’ parents (Terrell and Diane) the following day.
When Alex greeted me at the airport she said there was something on the back seat of the car for me. Nell had put together a ‘welcome’ basket which contained a packet of Fritos (my favourite USA snack!), a range of chocolate bars (with mucho peanut butter) and other tasty things, a USA t-shirt and a star spangled handkerchief. That was really thoughtful.
I can’t say enough about how generous Terrell, Diane and Nell Tebbetts were, both with their time and their money during my stay. I was treated to a range of foods which included catfish, BBQ, cajun chicken, chicken & fries, a tasty buffet, awesome sandwiches and a Chicago style pizza. Terrell also cooked a perfect steak after the commencement ceremony and on another evening we had a lasagne that Garfield would kill for!
The house I stayed in is called the Garrott House and is the oldest surviving structure in Batesville (built in 1842). Terrell and Diane Tebbets spent several years restoring the house and it was a privilege to stay in such a beautiful example of 19th century architecture.
Graduation is one of the most important events in your child’s life and I am just so glad and appreciative that I could be there. There were two ceremonies which I was able to attend. Baccalaureate is a service to farewell the graduating class. At Lyon College there is also a torch ceremony held after the Baccalaureate ceremony concludes.
The graduation ceremony (commencement) was held on May 9. Both ceremonies were led by the Lyon College pipe band with the graduating students following them in a procession. Needless to say, tears of pride were shed by many parents, friends and family members! There’s just something special about seeing so many young people successfully completing their studies in preparation for the next chapter of their lives.
What a wonderful institute. Founded as Arkansas College by Arkansas Presbyterians, Lyon College opened its doors in September 1872. Lyon College is a liberal arts college with Scottish origins. The college continues to celebrate its Scottish heritage through a Scottish Heritage Program, designed to teach, preserve, and celebrate the Scottish arts and traditions in America.
Before Alex became a student at Lyon I had no idea what a ‘Liberal Arts’ college was. Wikipedia says:
From a student perspective, a liberal arts college typically differs from other forms of higher education in the following areas: higher overall student satisfaction, a general feeling that professors take a personal interest in the student’s education, and perception of encouragement to participate in discussion. Many students select liberal arts colleges with precisely this sense of personal connection in mind.
Having toured the campus and having met some of Alex’s professors I can see why she was drawn to Lyon and why she excelled in her studies. It is such a stark contrast to a larger university. There is a genuine sense of community and that connection between faculty and students that you just can’t get in the larger environment.
Alex had said to my sister several times that she wanted to be sure that the college and airline fees were ‘money well spent’ and she has really over delivered! I spoke with two of her professors and also the college president’s wife during my stay. They all praised her and all said ‘I don’t know what we’re going to do without her next year’. Another professor who had seen her theatre production and several other productions that Alex was involved in expressed regret that Alex had not been one of his students as he was particularly impressed with what she had achieved and wished he’d had the opportunity to work with her.
In early days, Batesville was an important port on the White River and served as an entry point to the interior of northern Arkansas. Batesville played a large role in the settling of the Ozark Mountains region and served as the central land office for northern Arkansas.
The first known settlement of the Batesville area was in 1810 near the mouth of Polk Bayou, and by 1819 the town had a ferry across the White River and about a dozen houses. The town was partially laid out in early 1821, and on March 3, 1822 a bill of assurrance was recorded and executed and the town’s plat was laid out. Batesville became the county seat in 1821. In January 1822, Judge Richard Searcy opened the town’s first state circuit court. The town’s first post office was established in 1822, and in 1830 became the home of a county court. On 25 September 1836, shortly after Arkansas was granted its statehood, Governor Conway incorporated Batesville Academy, the state’s first academy. In the past, the area in and around the city had extensive quarries of manganese ore, phosphate rock, sandstone, limestone, and marble.
Being from a regional town myself, I felt really comfortable in Batesville. With a population of just over 10,000 it’s a very relaxed place with a rich history. The Tebbetts’ took us to the Old Independence Regional Museum, Blanchard Springs Caverns, a drive around the various areas of Batesville and a drive through the countryside, and in Little Rock we visited the McArthur Museum 0f Arkansas Military History, The Clinton Presidential Center and Little Rock Central High School. We also had a look through some surprisingly large antique and gift shops in Batesville.
All in all it was a pretty amazing trip – I got to see my daughter graduate, met some very special people and got a taste of some genuine southern food!