Friday, June 5, 2020

A victory lap around MSU: One senior's quest to relive college experiences

April 25, 2019

I stepped onto the lot behind Yakeley Hall by the corner and immediately went into panic mode.

“I don’t want to do this,” I said to my boyfriend. He looked puzzled as if to say, “It’s just a building.”

I wasn’t moving into my freshman year dorm — in fact, I was visiting it one last time as a student.

“I don’t want to graduate.”

With two weeks until I walk across the stage at Breslin Center, I thought it’d be a fun and cutesy idea to relive some memories. I made a list of things I wanted to reflect on and landmarks that have been special to ~ my Spartan experience ~ (to borrow a phrase), and I went on a mission to document my reactions to each space as I approach the next milestone.

It seemed like a silly thing to do, to stop by some random MSU landmarks and reflect. But there isn’t really a better way to appreciate your time winding down — and I didn’t want to leave East Lansing feeling like I could’ve gone somewhere one more time.

So, with my proverbial cap, gown and rose-tinted glasses on, I stepped onto campus and began my journey. 

Visiting the MSU Dairy Store

My first positive memory of MSU was getting dairy store ice cream during a summer camp. It’s only natural to start this experience here.

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I say positive, because I will admit that I went to a Wolverine-favoring high school when I moved to the Midwest and did not have the best exposure to MSU. Walking around campus at that summer camp felt like a marathon — I remember thinking walking from our dorms in Shaw Hall to the Dairy Store in Anthony was a long walk. But, damn, did that creamy, high-fat treat give me the first taste of this beautiful campus.

The day I went to revisit was 65 degrees and sunny in early April so the line was basically out the door at 2:45 p.m. on a Monday. The aroma of sugar, dairy and waffle cones filled the air, my heart and soon my stomach.

Nothing says MSU like Sesquicentennial Swirl. This will probably be my first stop every homecoming. (God, look at me. I’m already talking about homecoming.)

And if you’re looking to try something new, give the chocolate cheese a chance. 

Finishing a bucket at Crunchy’s

Crunchy’s is the best college bar in Michigan — that’s a hill I’m willing to die on. Where else do the names scratched into the wood-paneled walls look charming, illuminated by green Christmas lights all around?

My friends and I have gone nearly every week to drink cheap beer or mixed drinks and watch people scream an off-pitch rendition of “Man! I Feel Like a Woman” or “Take Me Home, Country Roads” into a microphone. We sit next to the vintage pinball machines or at the bar next to the karaoke star/Crunchy’s legend Dennis, and dare each other into getting on stage to some success. 

But in all my times ordering buckets of soft-pretzels or pizza rolls, I’ve never done one of the bar’s signature specials: A bucket of beer. 

Seven of us sat down for Miller Lite. It was good as a bucket can make light beer taste — not much to write home about.

I will say this: 270 ounces later and we still could’ve gone for another round.

Eating in a dining hall

No MSU food tour is complete without the Holy Grail of cafs, Brody Square. Perhaps nothing was more exciting as a freshman than the unlimited meal plan. 

Whatever I want to eat, at any hour I’m hungry? Anywhere on campus, plus Combo-X-Changes? I was sure I could never eat enough to break even on the value of the silver dining plan. I once challenged my roommate to eat enough to make the $3,000 per semester charge a steal. Doing the math now, it’s pretty much the value of a Chipotle burrito. But I probably did waste $9.50 on mornings I swiped in to get a banana and cereal. 

Of course, the novelty of on-campus food wore off pretty quickly. It’s often not as warm as you want it or could use another dozen pinches of salt. This time, I liked my Beyond Meat burger (when did they get that? Back in my day, vegetarian meals at the grill were just fries). My friends thought they wasted their money on their swipe in. 

While I don’t long for the days of a pre-made menu, I do miss having food on demand, especially since the last time I went to Aldi was 23 days ago.

MSU Museum’s “Sister Survivors Speak” Exhibit

It’s impossible to describe the last four years at MSU without the sister survivors and its relationship with the administration.

The effect of the administration’s response to a serial predator on the average student was profound. Even the least involved students knew of the culture of willful ignorance between university officials and assault survivors.

I would not be the same person or journalist without this event. Hearing about their traumas gave me a new perspective on how widespread plagues like this can be.

Visiting the “Finding Our Voices: Sister Survivors Speak” exhibit at the MSU Museum, I re-remembered it all. The storyline was all too familiar – it brought me back to the stress of the 24/7 spotlight on MSU in late 2017 and early 2018. But to see each glass panel representing a survivor displayed on a wall, highlighting the sheer number of people affected by one awful person, I felt the impact on these people and our community even further.  

We can’t let these memories fade. The MSU community recognized its ability to change dynamics and called for a leader with integrity, over and over. In a room full of photos, artifacts and evidence detailing a perpetrator’s faults and leadership that let hundreds of women and girls down, I realized the next fight will be continuing the momentum. We can never let the conversation stray from what happens when people ignore hard conversations.

My freshman year dorm

In hindsight, I should’ve realized this one would impact me most. 

I thought nostalgia would be a fun adventure and I’d be hit with all these lost memories like an amnesiac on a telenovela. But every step toward E143 in Yakeley Hall felt so familiar and yet so foreign. The bathrooms still smell a little weird and they still have posters of squirrels drinking. But, the hallway carpet looks and smells a lot better than three years ago. The name tags on the door weren’t mine but I went there on autopilot anyway. 

It took a lot to refrain from knocking on the door. 

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When I moved out of Yakeley in May 2016, did I think I’d come back? Did I realize I had my best friend one floor above me? That three years later, a twisted part of me missed climbing into a lofted twin bed at night and waking up to the world’s loudest dumpster truck at 7 a.m.?

Nostalgia is a hard pill to swallow. I started this list of all the places I wanted to hit one last time. I never thought I’d want to knock on an old door, desperately wanting to see if those girls set the room up like we did. 

This victory lap was meant to provide resolution. And while it did do that, it also taught me one cliche lesson: don’t wish away these fulfilling years. 

So, Class of 2023, throw on your green-and-white lanyard and enjoy the little things. Sometimes you’ll hate your cross-campus commute. Other times you’ll take the scenic route along River Trail.

Remember the details either way. Nostalgia only makes moving on that much sweeter.

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