A Different Kind of College Reunion

November 5, 2023
November 5, 2023 Betsy Voreacos

A Different Kind of College Reunion


“Did I ever tell you the story about (fill in the blank)…” I begin.

“Yeah, you did,” comes the quick response.

And yet, I forge ahead and retell my tale. I see the eye rolls, I really do. But in my heart I believe some stories are worth telling more than once. Or twice. Or three times.

Such as this serendipitous story of a friendship that almost didn’t happen.

When the daughter left for her freshman year at the University of North Carolina, the ever-loving spouse and I dropped her off, danced a little freedom jig and drove the old minivan 500 miles home to experience life with a mere two kids at home.

A few weeks later the daughter called to ask if we’d be coming for Parents’ Weekend. ALL her friends’ parents would be there and I would definitely LOVE them. Naturally, she had already connected with all of them, and noted that she was the ONLY one whose parents had yet to take them all out for dinner. I somewhat doubted the accuracy of that statement (after all, she’s my daughter … plus the fact that one friend hailed from Denver, one from Cleveland, one from the western wings of New Jersey and one from Asheville – which though closer — was still a good 225 miles from campus).

“Absolutely not,” I answered maybe a little too quickly. My entire life’s purpose has always been to make and keep as many friends as I possibly can, but I just wasn’t feeling it this time. Maybe it was that I had just been diagnosed with breast cancer or perhaps I’d simply aged out of my need to befriend people who would only be in my life for four short years.

I did visit once that year (not on parents’ weekend) and listened with half an ear to how great all the parents were, along with declarations that I would regret not getting to know them.

Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Sophomore year, I drove the daughter back to school with the old minivan chock full of uber-important possessions and lugged box after box up to the second-floor bedroom while the daughter took multiple hug-breaks with friends she hadn’t seen for oh so long.

And that’s when I met the parents.

“I told you,” the daughter texted me under the table at a group dinner that night.

“You’ve got to come meet Sandra and Stephen!” Carla, the Denver girl’s mother proclaimed. “They live on Franklin Street.”

“Who are Sandra and Stephen and why would I want to meet them?” I asked, thinking, here we go again.

Sandra and Stephen are pillars of the Chapel Hill community, not to mention alumni, sports enthusiasts, cheerleaders and, hands down, the warmest and most welcoming people I have ever met. But at this point, it was just hearsay. I hadn’t yet met them.

The story of Sandra and Stephen began when Lauren and her parents were flying from Denver to Chapel Hill freshman year. At the gate, a chirpy blond-haired woman befriended them, surmising that Lauren was heading to UNC for college.

Sandra and Stephen were in Denver visiting their grown son and his family and were returning home to Chapel Hill on the same flight.

“Call us,” Sandra said, handing Lauren her number. “We’ll be your surrogate grandparents while you’re in college.”

Yeah, yeah, yeah.

But there was something about Sandra and Stephen that warranted that first call. And the second. And the hundredth.

Sandra and Stephen live in a big, beautiful house on the main street of town, an easy walk from campus. And because they are the warmest, most welcoming people in the world, they opened their home to all of us parents, inviting us to stay there, singly or en masse, whenever we were visiting our children. I mean, who does that?

For the rest of their college days, the five girls and the parents (me included) scheduled yearly weekend visits at the same time so we could all hang out – Sandra and Stephen’s serving as home base and party central.

I often think that as much as I loved my parents, when I was in college, they and their friends were the last people I would want to spend a weekend with. But times have changed and clearly we are way cooler than our parents could have ever hoped to be. These girls are either really good actors or actually enjoy hanging out with us.

And just like that, it was graduation day. We rented out Sutton’s, the iconic Franklin Street drug store / eaterie, which features photos of the likes of Michael Jordan (and our daughters!) hanging from the ceiling. One of the fathers surprised us all by hiring the Clef Hangers, UNC’s renowned a capella group, to serenade us with their songs like Pharrell’s Happy, making us weep.

We wept with joy, pride and yes, sadness. Because it was over. That beautiful four-year (or as I’m always reminded, in my case three) unique, intergenerational friendship. We knew the girls would always be friends, there’s something about consuming kegs worth of beer that seals the deal. After all, I still get together with my freshman friends, almost half a century later. But the parents, would we really keep our vows to keep the embers burning? Would we ever go back to Chapel Hill? Would we attend the girls’ weddings? Would we know their babies?

Yes. Yes. Yes, And yes.

Since their graduation in 2014 we’ve gotten together almost every year – mostly in Chapel Hill, though we did deviate for Julie and Joe’s wedding in Asheville and Lauren and Rob’s in Denver. And yes, we love the significant others as much as we love the girls, well.. almost as much. But when 2022 came and went without a full-out reunion and we were well into 2023, we knew we had to make it happen. It would be so easy to allow bulging bellies, newborn babies, plummeting back accounts, stressful jobs, over-extended travel budgets, and just plain, old, ordinary busy lives to serve as perfectly appropriate excuses. And before long it would be another year, then a decade, then two and our Chapel Hill friendship that is so uniquely wonderful would be marked merely by holiday greetings, occasional zoom calls and texts with multiple emojis that would ebb and flow over the rest of our lives.

Or, we could just not take no for an answer.

Two weekends ago, nineteen of us reunited at UNC. The “kids” who are now 31 year-old adults, along with their spouses, a soon-to-be-spouse, the six-month-old Tate and 22-month-old Theo got dibs on Sandra and Stephen’s house and the parents were relegated to a local hotel.

We ate, we drank, we did trivia, we visited the old stomping grounds, we watched the Heels suffer their first football loss of the season. We celebrated Sandra’s milestone birthday, the birth of the boys, the new baby brewing, but most of all, we celebrated 13 years of friendship (12 in my case, because well, you know…). A friendship that almost didn’t happen. A friendship that could so easily slide into a fond memory. A friendship that reminds us of what we learned long ago in Sunday School, or less long ago during Pi Phi initiation, or just from long years of living:

Be not forgetful to entertain strangers; 

for by this some have entertained angels unawares.