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Take a walk with me

May 21, 2008

A walking tour from a graduating senior about her time at PLU

Welcome to PLU! I’m the senior you, and I’ll be your tour guide today. I’ve spent almost four years on this campus, and have come to know it well. I want to show you some of the places that will be important to you in your life here. You should know, first of all, that things will be different from what you have known up until now. While you’re at PLU, you’ll learn to think about the world differently. Your integrity will be built up and tested. You will form intense and lasting friendships. You will also have great fun. We’re standing in the administration building, where we’ll begin the tour. It’s technically called Hauge Administration Building, but the only time you will call it that is when you are giving campus tours to prospective students and their families for your job at the admission office.

You will lovingly refer to it, as all PLU students do, as simply “Admin.” To your right is the espresso cart, where you will buy many a double tall latte before class in order to stay awake, because on so many nights you will wander campus with friends until you can’t wander anymore. You will especially need these lattes during your first few weeks here, as you will not want to sleep for all the things to explore and people to meet.

Up above the front doors are the flags that represent the different nationalities represented by our students and professors. You will visit two of them. You will look in awe at the size of the Pantheon in Italy, with intense curiosity at the variety of the world in Tanzania.

As a Humanities major, you will spend your life in this building. Eventually, you will have stories from each classroom. For example, when you came to love philosophy in 220, when your professor told a joke that caused you to blush crimson in 219, when you bared small parts of your soul in 211A. You will notice when a flyer is taken down or put up on a bulletin board, and you will know exactly where you will pass your roommate in the hallway when she is leaving her English class and you are on your way to yours.

Here on your left, down this hallway, is President Anderson’s office. You will admire him, as many people do, as a wise and thoughtful man. He will give many inspiring speeches during your time here. As you pass him one day on your way to your Greek class, you’ll see that his smile is warm and familiar, even though you’ve never formally met him.

We’re now walking toward Mortvedt Library. To get to the library, you can walk on the paved walkway in front of the administration building . But you can also walk on the woodchip path on the side of the east wing, with green trees and ferns on either side, and you will choose this path every time.

Sometimes you will imagine that you are making a mini-trek through the wilderness on your way from class to study or meet up with friends in the library, because on some days, this will be the only wild area that will be close enough to touch. Often a squirrel will run across the path in front of you. Once in a while, a particularly rambunctious and adventurous squirrel will explode out of the garbage can at the entrance of the library and scare you half to death, but you will smile because come on, that’s funny.

This is Mortvedt Library. It houses more than half a million books and volumes, many of them published in 1950 or before. Most of the time, this will annoy you. But on the other hand, there is something pleasant about the musty smell and crinkly feel of old yellow pages and wondering who, in 1954, was the first person to check out this copy of Descartes’ Meditations.

You will find out that one of the best places to study is up in the Language Resource Center on the third floor. If you sit at the back of the room and look out the window, you can see the lawn and trees north of Harstad, and the people scurrying across the grass to get to work or class. Occasionally during the damp days of fall and spring, they don’t notice that the whole center of the lawn is muddy, and they look down with disgust at their dirty shoes. You’ll laugh, and you’ll only feel a little badly about it.

We’re now walking alongside Xavier Hall, which houses the social sciences. For you, this building is not nearly as interesting as the trees and plants across from it. If you’re thinking “those trees look good for slacklining,” you’re right. You will have several friends who will be more than willing to string their lines up during the summer of 2007 in the weeks before you leave for a semester in Tanzania.

While it’s someone else’s turn to walk, you will lie on your back in the grass and look at the sunlight coming through the leaves. You will wonder what kind of trees they are and who lives there. You’ll be a little disappointed that you didn’t study more ecology.

This is Red Square. It’s actually called Centennial Square, but probably fewer than a quarter of PLU students know its “real” name. Listen carefully; if you throw a stone across the red bricks for which the square is nicknamed, it sounds like a xylophone. Red Square will be the site of many events you will attend, among them “Take Back the Night”, a vigil for those suffering from AIDS, the sustainable foods fair. They will all make you aware of the world in which you live.

In Eastvold Auditorium, on Red Square, probably a hundred or more productions will happen on the stage while you are here. You’ll attend many plays and dance performances and musicals, even though you aren’t that genre’s biggest fan.

But walking to NPCC after Night of Musical Theater with some friends, you will admit that you enjoyed the performance, and you will be proud of your incredibly talented peers. Believe it or not, you will be up on that stage for three nights in The Vagina Monologues. You will feel a kind of solidarity with your female co-stars that comes from knowing you are helping to empower women.

Right below the rose window at the top of Eastvold are a few lucky professors’ offices. You will take several classes from the professor whose office is on the left. You will get to spend some of your class days in the late spring out on the balcony. It will be hard to pay attention to anything having to do with Benedict Spinoza or David Hume because it is not often that you get to see the campus from this angle, somewhere between the ground and the treetops.

On a sunny day, the campus will glow and the students will finally strip off their winter coats to reveal skin that, for some of them, will probably be burned pinkish-red by the evening.

Here on the north side of Red Square are the rhododendron bushes, which bloom bright fuchsia in the spring. Sometimes, during your precious ten minutes between classes and work, you will go sit on the benches in front of them. One day there might be a little old lady with her little old dog sitting on the bench next to you. You’ll nod a hello to her and scratch her dog’s head. You’ll want to sit there all day just to learn their story, but you will have to run to class instead.

To our left is the newly remodeled University Center. We’re not going to go in it, but there are some things you should know. It’s one of those buildings which, being in it, makes you happy to be a college student. You will meet up with many a friend on just a walk through the building. You’ll hug and talk about how long it’s been since you’ve caught up – you will, by the way, be busy at PLU.

You will see incredible photos on the walls taken by PLU students and faculty on their adventures abroad, and you will live vicariously through them. You will remember learning about how the building materials, automatic lighting system, and other elements of the UC are leading to LEED Silver Sustainability Certification.

Signs posted in the bathrooms sometimes will remind you to use only as much water as you need to wash your hands. This will make you proud not just to be a college student, but a PLU student, and even in this small way, a conscious citizen of the world.

Ramstad Hall, also on the square, houses counseling and testing. At first, you will be reluctant to spend any time here, but once you have cried for an hour during the tragic and beautiful experience of giving a voice to your deepest thoughts and beliefs, with the walls around you painted a calm sea green and the rain pouring down outside, you will come to know it as a place of comfort, of support, and of discovery.

We’re walking on the side of Eastvold on a sort of “backroad” on the PLU campus. Coming up on our left are the stairs that lead to lower campus. It seems unlikely, but there are many animals who live on the hillside dividing upper campus from lower. Late one night you will be out walking here and meet a raccoon. You will both freeze, each of you startled by the presence of another mammal species in the habitat you thought belonged only to your own. You will stare at each other for two whole minutes, bathed in the eerie glow of the orange streetlight at the top of the stairs, the raccoon’s eyes small, bright, and ringed with black, yours large and wondering.

We’re walking on a path that leads from Red Square to the administration building. The grass and trees to our left make up a magical place on the PLU campus. You will come here on sunny days to toss a Frisbee with friends, some of whom (like you) are really just not very good at it.

You will bring blankets and your backpack out here in hopes of studying Nussbaum or Chopin or Virgil, but you will instead lie there, relaxing, your thoughts punctuated by unexpected visits from friends or the flight of one of the many bird species who make their homes in these trees, in this grass, breathing this air.

One day, on this path, you will be walking with someone you’ve come to know and respect as both a professor and a human being during your four years here. The early spring sun that cuts through the cold will be shining, and he will tell you how much you’ve grown up.

Enjoy your time here and take all of the opportunities that come your way. Break some rules, but not too many. Laugh and cry. Rush to class, work, and meetings, but don’t forget to look around sometimes.

You will become a person here. You will come to love, really love, this place, and the way it has shaped you.

Graduating senior and humanities major Lindsey Webb wrote this essay. Photo by University Photographer Jordan Hartman.