Legacy Students Bond through Shared Experiences with Alumni Parents
University Public Affairs
In high school, Matthew Ballou visited the VCU campus with his parents, Marvin and Starann, who had both attended school here. He quickly realized that no building was just a building, no street just another street. His parents had a story for every prominent structure and obscure corner of the campus that they encountered.
When Ballou arrived this fall as a first-year student at VCU, he continued to take in his surroundings in the context of the personal histories of his parents, who met at VCU. There was the concrete world he made his way through and the ghostly one that lingered below the surface.
“It makes the experience of being here feel larger to me,” Ballou said.
Legacy students represent a walking, talking link with the university’s past. Sometimes, they arrive at VCU with intimate knowledge of the university, having heard about it in great detail from their parents. Some ran around campus when they were little, cheered in the stands at basketball games, attended musical concerts. Others are less familiar, having gained only a vague idea of their loved ones’ time on campus.
In some cases, it is the choice of a child to attend VCU that revives a parent’s connection to the school. Cherie Anderson did not maintain a particularly strong attachment to her alma mater, though she said she’d had a great experience at VCU. However, when her daughter, Elyse, arrived as a freshman, she strengthened her ties to the university, becoming an active member of the VCU Alumni Association and volunteering with the School of Engineering Parents Council.
Anderson said her daughter’s choice of VCU ultimately made the college experience particularly special for her as a mother.
“(I’m) very proud she followed in my footsteps,” Anderson said.
Elyse said her decision to become a student at VCU helped her mother rediscover the school and appreciate the dramatic changes it has undergone since she graduated.
“She was so happy to see that VCU now feels so much more like a campus and not just a school that is located in an urban area,” Elyse said.
|Family Weekend is Oct. 11 to Oct. 14 at VCU, an opportunity for parents to visit campus and participate in a host of events, such as information sessions, concerts, sports contests and open houses. For alumni parents, it’s another opportunity to revisit a critical, memorable time in their lives.
That pride in the progress of the university abounds. Starann Ballou had a similar response when she joined Matthew for his campus tour in high school and later for auditions for the theater program. She was impressed with the new dorms that have sprung up, the improvements to Shafer Court and the changes on Grace Street, where her husband had an apartment in their school days.
“It’s amazing how much growth they’ve seen and how many more offerings they have for students than they did 30 years ago,” said Ballou, who received a degree in nursing at VCU.
Elyse Anderson and Matthew Ballou said their parents’ ties to VCU did not lead to pressure to attend. Ballou’s interest in the theater program played a larger role in his college decision, he said.
“They didn’t push me,” said Ballou, who also has an aunt who attended VCU. “But I could tell they were happy when I decided to come here.”
“I was happy that he saw the value in what VCU had to offer and made the decision on his own,” his mother said.
Anderson’s college decision was driven by her interest in attending medical school after college and the knowledge that the VCU School of Medicine “would serve as an invaluable resource and was right down the street from the Monroe Park Campus.”
Her plan has fallen neatly into place. She received a bachelor’s degree in biomedical engineering with minors in mathematics and chemistry at VCU, graduating with honors and magna cum laude, and received the VCU University Leadership Award, an honor that made her feel as though “my time and effort at VCU had made a difference to other people and the campus as whole.” She is now a first-year medical student at the VCU School of Medicine.
Ballou, a friendly, outgoing person, is enjoying the theater program and said that VCU has been a good match for his eagerness to connect with people. He said he’s found that striking up a conversation with a stranger on campus is often rewarded.
“I love the people here,” Ballou said. “I love how easy it is to communicate with them. There’s such a great atmosphere. It’s a great place to be.”
He believes that his choice of VCU has given his parents some peace of mind while he is away and has made his life less mysterious.
“If we’re talking on the phone and I tell them where I am, they can picture it,” Ballou said. “They always know exactly where I am.”
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