Every once in a while we have "eureka" moments, moments of exciting insight that seem to happen in an instant and can disappear just as quickly. It is a moment in which you realize or find something very special.
I had one of those moments in September when Benedictine University had its 2011 Homecoming celebration. It was a beautiful fall day with much fanfare and excitement. Our football team's wonderful success on the field only added to the festivities.
Over the years, I have noticed that tailgating has become a Homecoming tradition on campus -- with families, classes and friends gathering to reminisce and indulge in some very tasty food.
As I moved from table to table and from alumnus to alumna, I had my "eureka" moment. I realized the history of Benedictine is not a horizontal sequence of events easily captured in a narrative. Rather, the history of Benedictine University -- and its predecessors St. Procopius College and Illinois Benedictine College -- is a sequence of private snapshots experienced by every person who walked on this campus.
I have been the beneficiary over the years of literally hundreds of these stories and unique perspectives about this institution.
Traditional approaches to preparing the history of an institution focus on significant events in the life of the institution. In 1886, for example, the monks of St. Procopius occupied the Neff Farmhouse to begin building their college. In the early 20th century, the decision was made to pursue the sciences as the fundamental course of study for St. Procopius College.
In 1968, women were officially admitted into the college (even though women had enrolled earlier). In 1972, the name was changed to Illinois Benedictine College and in 1996 to Benedictine University.
While these are important events in the history of this wonderful institution, they tell only part of the story. These events are like road signs that depict the direction one should go.
What is not depicted is the journey of those traveling the road. What is missing is the personal story of those who have traveled the Benedictine road -- our alumni -- no matter when they traversed the campus.
From them, I have heard of the kindness of Archbishop Kucera; the passion and diligence of the Jurica brothers; the discipline and high expectations of Rose Carney; the "ghosts" who supposedly haunt the campus; the Volkswagen that mysteriously appeared in the middle of the Scholl courtyard; the thousands of academic success stories; the barber's chair in Benedictine Hall; the playing of hockey on the slough (now Lake St. Benedict); the many spouses who met their significant others because of Benedictine University; the chapel in Ben Hall; the dynamiting of the old swimming pool south of Ben Hall; and many other stories.
These are the stories that put meat on the bones of our history, yet they are told (and seldom recorded) only in passing.
Thanks to the digital revolution, we have now come to a time in history in which these personal stories can be recorded and kept for posterity. We have reached a moment wherein each person's unique memory and experience of the institution can be captured. Your story, their story, and even my story can become part of the permanent history of the institution.
To capture these stories, the university has established a webpage at ben.edu/memories for people to tell their Benedictine story. Each entry of up to 500 words will become part of the permanent record of the institution (the university reserves the right edit submissions).
If you are unable to access a computer, please jot down your memory on a piece of paper and send it directly to me at the university.
No matter when you walked this campus, your story is a piece of the puzzle that we want to preserve for every generation of Benedictines -- past, present and to come.
I am particularly eager to capture the stories of the Golden Eagles, those who graduated more than 50 years ago. They are the last remaining "Procopians" and their memory banks are rich in the treasures of this institution.
This is like a family in which the elders pass on the family history to successive generations. Without this transmission of history, the history itself would be lost.
Therefore, if you are an alumnus or alumna, know any alumni, or have an interesting perspective on Benedictine University, I invite you to share that memory with me.
• William Carroll is president of Benedictine University.