First Impressions

Prompt from Loretta Stewart Thomas: “My first day at college.”

I had never seen my college campus prior to my arrival that first day. I went to school before “college visits” were the excuse to travel to exotic places during spring break. But that’s not to say I hadn’t seen any college campus. My sister and brother had gone to Eastern Montana College now known as Montana State University-Billings. I had spent time at Montana State University in Bozeman for 4-H activities. And I spent a week at Carroll College in Helena between my junior and senior year in high school. I was a big fan of Love Story, that sappy movie set at Harvard. I pictured granite Collegiate Gothic castle-like halls of learning with ivy growing on the weathered exterior, with a turret or two thrown in. So I had a picture in my head of what a big league school looked like.

My parents drove me to college, making the 20 hour drive in two days. We stayed with my sister in Richmond, about an hour from school. It was comforting to know she was so near. We stayed with Carol and her husband for a couple days. Their two little kids were excited to have us visit, and I still wonder where we all slept. They had a little three bedroom box on Hilltop Drive, and adding the three of us, there had to be a sofa sleeper involved.

The morning I was due to move in to my dorm, we sat three abreast in the Oldsmobile 98. The big bench seat in front had more than enough room. I was used to sitting in front—my mom would always drive, and I sat between them. I never quite outgrew the baby of the family ranking.

The front seat had the best view of the spectacular Bay Bridge. We took I-80 into San Francisco, then merged onto Highway 101 South down the Peninsula.

We exited onto University Avenue, and headed west. Some of the large homes that lined the avenue were what I expected—tall white pillars, oversized front doors—but some of them were definitely California casual. The drive continued into downtown Palo Alto, where the Varsity Theater and Round Table Pizza gave it a small town feel. We drove under the railroad tracks, and University transformed into Palm Drive. True to its name, Palm Drive was lined with tall, foreign looking palm trees—fatter around than I expected, and there were no coconuts that I could tell.

Groves of eucalyptus trees, large, scaly and smelly were behind the palms, reaching for as far as I could see. It felt like we were in a foreign country forest. We drove for a ways, and the tree covered landscape began to change. Ahead of us, the strangest thing loomed, growing larger as we approached. Red tiled roofs, arched colonnades, covered walkways, and beyond a courtyard there was a golden glowing church. I could tell this was no gray, granite gothic edifice. The stone was a warm yellow tan, the Spanish tile roofs were red. The buildings were low to the ground, calm, welcoming, quiet.

“There must have been a mistake,” I thought! “This isn’t a college, this is a country club! Where’s the ivy?”

My dorm was even more unexpected. I had pictured the utilitarian, high-rise dorm with elevators and sterile steel and linoleum rooms. As we drove up to Lagunita Court, the country club mistake was reinforced. Lag consisted of two-storied long and low stucco and red tile roofed buildings so that the connecting buildings formed a luscious courtyard of live oaks, rhododendrons, lemon and orange trees. The halls were arched, the walls and floor plaster and wood. At the far end of the courtyard was the dining hall—A two story open dining room, dark wood floors with heavy dark tables and chairs—open beams with copper chandeliers. At one end in an alcove was a grand piano. The front looked Spanish Colonial with two-story glass doors with arched windows lining the entire façade that opened onto an open-air terrace with graceful stairs on either end that led down to the courtyard. It was instant love.

I was assigned to a triple—three girls in two rooms. We had a water closet. The room was in the building named Olivo—which was the wing that had girls on the first floor, and boys on the second floor. The adjacent wing was Magnolia, which was a co-ed dorm. Dad and I carried my two suitcases and black trunk into the dorm room. My new roommates were already there—Mary Lubischer from Fresno, who was planning on becoming a mechanical engineer, and Kristi Reynolds from Thousand Oaks, who had no plan. The place was chaotic.

Moving in took less than half an hour, since I had so little stuff. And then we were done. It is cruel to think now, but at the time, I just couldn’t wait for my parents to leave!! I was ready to reach out to explore! Make new friends! Find my way around, dive into this new world called Stanford. They stood in the little room that had no chairs for them to sit, watching me as I began putting my few possessions away, looking, and probably feeling, useless.

My parents said goodbye. I don’t remember any tears. They were going to drive down the coast to visit relatives, and then stop on their way back to my sister’s so I knew I would see them soon. After they left I walked to the bookstore, walked around the Quad, climbed the berm behind the dorm to the empty Lake Lagunita. When I returned to Olivo, I joined my new roommates and we had the first of many meals in the dining hall.

Move from Montana family farm to Stanford Farm. Check.


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