Editor's Notebook: Duck-walking wistfully backwards through son’s years at the U of O

Our family shared a milestone with thousands of Oregonians over the weekend: Our son, Delaney, graduated from college.

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Delaney Rea

He received his diploma in the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communications ceremony in Matthew Knight Arena, and looks forward to a six-month internship doing video editing and production in Portland.

The thing that surprised me most about the commencement ceremony (my first college one since my own in 1980) is that the concession stand was open and one could buy popcorn … and beer. (For once, the snacks did not get the better of me.)

Lorre and Delaney’s older brother, Connal, and I attended and it was a joyous occasion, for sure. And oh, so bittersweet.

Where did the time go?

(What follows is essentially a list of my own what-ifs from my son’s college years, and reflect my own perspective only; what counts most is that in his four years at UO, Delaney made deep friendships and enjoyed rich and varied experiences there.)

In that weird contradictory/complementary quality of time, Delaney’s September 2014 move-in to the dorms seems like yesterday yet feels like an age ago. And his graduation brought to mind my own, in June 1980. Didn’t THAT just happen?

Time’s loop manifested in several ways on Sunday.

We hit traffic congestion at the campus entrance on Agate Avenue as grads’ families arrived for ceremonies. So, on Delaney’s last day at UO, we encountered the same traffic backup as Day One, 2014, when all of us were delivering our freshmen to campus.

A short stretch down Franklin Boulevard, we saw the same knitted duck feet we had first seen in 2014 — 30 of them — wrapped around railings near the UO entrance.

Quite weathered, they looked like the same ones and I wish I had learned the story of who “knit-bombs” that location with a unique UO method of welcome. Over the years, I noticed holiday-themed duck feet that someone also knits but there, on Sunday, were the yellow webfeet we saw and grew to love starting September 2014.

During Delaney’s time, only once did Lorre and I hit Taylor’s, the notorious campus beer hall, and I never went back to the wonderful independent coffee shop Café Roma, two doors down from Starbucks.

So many eateries to choose from … that Spring 2014 on our official campus visit, we had dined at Mediterranean restaurant, Caspian, in the University district, and I liked it and figured we would go back. As a family, we never did, but Delaney ate there a few times. On a visit earlier this spring, I suggested it and he said, “I was just there the other day.”

My bittersweet mood is about more than food and drink locales, though.

Only once did I go inside hallowed the MacArthur Court building (now mainly classrooms) in all that time. Never did make it to Autzen Stadium, but football at all levels lost its luster several years ago.

I tried to reach, but never made contact with, a professor from my first year at Linfield College (1977-78) who, two years later, moved to UO and has been there ever since. I had been in touch with her as recently as five or six years ago and thought it would be fun to connect while my son was studying at the same institution where she teaches. But our paths never crossed.

I have four close friends who live in Eugene (one of whom Delaney has seen in passing) that I never got to meet up with for nearly all of 2014-18.

I did visit one couple at their home in Eugene this April, after not seeing them in six or so years.

The reality is that with the three-hour drive down to Eugene, often with same-day return, our focus was always on spending time with Delaney.

I have always loved public art and on that first walk around campus in 2014, Delaney, Lorre and I played on one that just invites interaction, a series of metal steps that give slightly as you walk on them.

I remember thinking, “I’m gonna come back and do this again,” but it ever happened. Never even learned the name of it.

And on Sunday, walking away from the ceremony, through a part of campus I had not visited, we walked past the UO Museum of Cultural and Natural History, which I would have loved to have visited, and perhaps will one day.

I was glad that back in 2014, I made a point of getting a photo taken with my father in front of the east grandstand of Hayward Field, for the structure is not only historic, but I have my own memories of watching and covering high school and college track there, including the visceral experience of seeing the late Steve Prefontaine compete on the track. I walked or drove by Hayward numerous times as during four years at UO, Delaney lived within blocks of it.

I know much will be gained yet almost as much lost when it is torn down as part of constructing the new Hayward complex that is about to happen.

What I fear will be lost is the graceful connection of Hayward Field to the adjoining campus buildings and the adjacent residential neighborhood. I always loved the busy but gentle seamlessness between the athletic, academic and residential functions of that part of Eugene, and hope that the designers can sustain that tone with the rebuilt facilities.

The neighborhood feel of Eugene will endure, however, and I know that Delaney’s happy years at UO will always enable me to feel at home in Eugene.



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