An Old Panther Comes Home

I’m coming back.

After 39 years (almost to the day) that I graduated from Georgia State, I’ll be back in the classroom this fall. A grandfather going back to school. Apprehensive? Yes. Excited? Yes!

This place has changed just a little in 39 years. To give you some perspective, a lot was happening in 1974 (the year I received by bachelor’s degree).

Hank Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s all-time home run record and Maynard Jackson was entering his second year as Atlanta’s first black mayor. The unforgettable Noah Langdale was the University’s president. Dahlberg Hall, named after my former mentor, Bill Dahlberg (also a GSU grad) used to be the Municipal Auditorium.

It was in that building that I watched Muhammad Ali regain his title by knocking out Jerry Quarry in 1970 and stayed late after class to watch concerts like The Allman Brothers Band and The Who.

Hurt Park is still here, as are Kell & Sparks Halls (although Wayne Kell and George Sparks, the university’s first president, were long gone back in 1974). The greatest student radio station anywhere, WRAS-FM, was on the air–where I worked in news and did color commentary on the GSU basketball games.

I took journalism classes from the legendary George Greiff and found an academic mentor in an extraordinary young English professor named Larry Beloof. Like each of you, I was the beneficiary of exceptional academic and personal influences during my years on what has become one of the nation’s great urban campuses.

Forgive the reminiscing, as I am trying to avoid a trip down memory lane. As the emerging young poet Clifford Brooks reminds us, “Nostalgia is ruinous, the slow death of better days.”

But we have to look back occasionally, as it provides perspective—and blessings we can actually count.

My degree allowed me to pursue a career in broadcast journalism and later in corporate communication. And, I’m returning to Georgia State to study creative writing under Dr. David Bottoms, Georgia’s former Poet Laureate whose extraordinary work continues to inspire me.

So now I’m picking up The Signal and thinking how terrific it is that the bright young students who are now running this paper (and website) will soon branch out into careers that will take them to places they can’t even envision. Take it from a grandfather that has been there (and now back).

When I was attending classes in Kell Hall, little did I know that I would live a life after college that would include an extraordinary 39-year marriage, three beautiful daughters and two incredibly cute grandkids.  I got to see places like London and Cape Town and Hong Kong (not to mention Vidalia and Waynesboro).

I went backstage with Tom Petty and Chuck Leavell and watched U2 open the Georgia Dome in 1992 (with my then 14-year-old daughter).

I’ve walked three daughters down the aisle and known their unconditional love. I have been richly blessed. Like Tennyson’s Ulysses, I have become “…a part of all that I have met.”

I remember my father, who graduated from Ohio State University on my 13th birthday, and how much he loved the classroom.  But his decision to put his family first created a ‘late start’ on his career. I have seen the sacrifice that he and my mother made—and I know what David Bottoms writes of in his wonderful poem “Sign for My Father, Who Stressed the Bunt.”

So my Dad, were he still with us, might ask (like Dylan) “Where will you go now, my blue-eyed son?”

And I would answer, “I am going back to school, where the buildings are different but the heart is the same.”

Older now, I sling a backpack over my shoulder, trying foolishly to jam a Yukon into a Yugo-sized parking space, back aching, cussing traffic, still balding and highly uncertain of what lies ahead.

But there is one certainty I know: nothing is more exciting than learning.  And I am living proof of that.

#                                                                      #

Note:  Altman, 61, lives in Lawrenceville with his wife Lisa. He has published articles in Georgia Outdoor News and the Gwinnett Citizen and is currently the Books and Writer Editor of the Pickens County Progress in Jasper, Georgia.