I am an English professor at Gardner-Webb University and for the past four years, I’ve taken students who are joining our chapter of Sigma Tau Delta, the international English honor society, on a trip to Asheville for induction. Usually a handful of students are familiar with Asheville having grown up nearby or visited frequently, but most are relative AVL newbies.
We head out from campus in a big university van and drive into the mountains. After finding a place to park the huge van and breathing in the patchouli-scented air, we make our way to Doc Chey’s for lunch. The Sigma Tau chapter pays for lunch so college students get a double treat – a free lunch with leftovers they can eat for days.
As we leave Doc Chey’s, we write our “Before I die” wishes on the sidewalk chalkboard then we head to Malaprop’s for induction.
For English majors, Malaprop’s is mecca. The smell of coffee and books, the signed copies and staff picks, the shelves devoted to Banned Books and to Neil Gaiman. For me, the beautiful wonder is that a local, independent bookstore is always full of people, that we have to work to find an empty corner, that we have to stand in line to buy our books.
We line up in the Local Authors corner (near Ron Rash, GWU alum) and recite the Sigma Tau Delta pledge. The initiates receive their pins and certificates. The seniors are given their graduation cords, and we all cry a bit. One year, a playwright working at the table nearby took part in our ceremony and we gave her a bookmark as an honorary certificate of membership.
After the induction ceremony, the students wander around downtown as they please for a couple of hours before we meet at French Broad Chocolate Lounge. They have adventures, meet interesting people. One year a few of us found a box of free books on the sidewalk – a baited field for English majors.
We sip and eat wonderful chocolate and pastries at the Chocolate Lounge. The students love the emphasis on local foods, on recycling at every store and eatery. We share our excitement over purchases – usually books – then head back to the van for the trip home.
Every year, I ask if they want to do something different for the induction ceremony. And every year, they say, “NO! We want to go to Asheville!” For people who often think and act differently than their peers, Asheville is like going home.