By Aimee Stauf. Originally published in the PHC Herald, 12/2/11.
Patrick Henry College
During his freshman year at Patrick Henry College, Ardee Coolidge sat in his dorm room on a cold, wintry afternoon. A thick layer of snow, the year’s first, covered the outside, but, as Coolidge recalls, he was too busy writing a paper to join his friends having a snowball fight outside. Just then his mom called, and he told her about his paper and the snow outside.
“Are you going to go out in it?” she asked.
“No, but my friends are having a snowball fight.”
“Ardee,” she insisted, “hang up the phone, close your school books, take a break, and go have fun with your friends.”
“Mom, did you just tell me not to study?”
“Ardee, studying is not everything. You need to study, but you also need to take a break and spend time with friends.”
It was a bit of wisdom that Coolidge has embraced and carried with him since. Each semester as finals approach, with papers due and deadlines pressing in, students at PHC are almost uniformly focused on school. But they also realize that enjoying the campus community is just as important. Through their experiences on campus, students from every class dating back to the College’s onset have contributed to a community which has become, to many, like a second home. Friendships, Christian encouragement, and good old fun have brought students closer together and closer to Christ.
Community at PHC often begins in the dorm wings. James Nelson’s wing went together to the recent campus Thanksgiving dinner.
“We...put on suit jackets and ties and came over as a wing.” The wing men crowded around a table and “had a family thanksgiving dinner” before everyone left for break. They went around and said what they were thankful for, some guys even made some toasts. “It was a good time,” Nelson said.
For guys, community often centers on eating food or working out.
“Once a month, twice a month, [my wing] goes to this place for breakfast in Leesburg on Saturday mornings,” said Daniel “Brodi” Broaddus. In Coolidge’s wing, Cheezits have been a way to formulate community. Josh Chamberlain and Tony Cavicchi are said to always have boxes in their room.
“You know that if you’re hungry you can go in there and get some,” said Coolidge.
Studying together in a dorm room
“Over Fall Break I had different people coming in and out and decorating. We had the sound track for Casablanca playing. Sara Foss was directing from the couch. Chelsea Kneen was working the sewing machine. Rebecca “Tella” Sampayan was coming in and out. Emily Morcos was framing Norman Rockwell paintings.”
Often, unplanned interaction fosters a great sense of community.
“Something as simple as sitting in the hall creates community in ten minutes,” said Degnan. “You sit there and pretty soon someone walks by, says hi, and starts a conversation with you. Then someone in their room hears you talking and comes out to see what’s going on. Half the wing ends up in the hallway.
“Little things can mean so much,” she added. “I would be miserable writing a 3,600-word paper, except that there are four other people in the cubes with me.”
Coolidge experienced this sense of community early. Soon after he got his first Spinney paper and worst grade ever -- a 69 -- back, he went through a rough time.
“I had never seen those numbers in that order. I thought it should be 96, not 69. I thought I had worked really hard on it,” he said. Soon after getting his grade, he walked past the dining hall and saw three friends inside.
“Oh, did you get your paper back?” they asked. Coolidge dejectedly told them what grade he got.
“Ardee, welcome to PHC,” they said. “You are now officially part of the story. It’s fine, and you’re going to do better next time.” Ardee genuinely appreciated their concern.
“The care and interest they showed was something I had never experienced. My day was made because of that.”
Second semester of his freshman year, Coolidge went home for break and discovered that a bunch of chocolate had been donated to the food ministry of which his family was a part.
Praying for a classmate before his engagement "bobtism," an informal campus tradition
“If anyone wants chocolate, they can just come and get it. I have been able to meet new people, especially freshmen, that way,” said Coolidge.
In times of struggle, students are there for each other as well, encouraging each other to godliness. “There was a time last year where I was feeling like nothing I could do mattered, that there was nothing significant about me,” said Broaddus.
“David Barber, Ben Barber, and Steven Williams supported me, told me that I just needed to stop talking and chill out. They sympathized with me.”
“I know if something is not right, I can go to any of the guys in the wing and tell them whatever,” said Justin Booth. “They’ll come alongside, encourage me, and build me up.”
“I think that is the goal of every RA here, to try to build you up and encourage you to become the godly individual that Christ would want you to be,” said Booth.
“I definitely hope in my wing, especially, that there is a brotherhood within and between the rooms,” offered Nelson, emphasizing the importance of looking to Christ for community. “I hope that guys are there for each other and know that guys are there for them. “
Degnan was quick to point out that building each other up is the main focus. “Calling each other up, acting as [siblings] in Christ, doing things like meeting together for a time in prayer are so important in creating... community .”