Fall Winter 07

The Core


Summer in the City

In Fermi’s Footsteps

Seeds of Change


Editor's Note

Vox Populi

Science Beyond Boundaries

Supporting Students as They Are

Summer Stock

Head of the Class

Geeking Out

Goin' West

Go Ask Alumni

Vox Populi

Second Sight

A quarter century after she graduated, a campus tour reminds Lisa Harris, AB’82, MBA’84, why she chose the College.

“Welcome to Chicago,” Amanda, our campus tour guide, greets us at the Alumni Weekend’s “Applying to College” session. I am attending my 25th reunion, accompanied by my two daughters, high-school age Lyda and preschool-age Ava.

I live in Arizona and haven’t returned to campus for years. When a brochure announcing the event arrived in the mail, I realized it was time for a homecoming.

The 25th reunion is a time of reflection. We’ve had a quarter of a century to shed whatever baggage we may have carried away and embrace the gifts that the University of Chicago offered. I’ll be honest: I didn’t leave after earning two degrees singing its praises. I left thinking, “What’s the big deal? Can’t everyone write, think critically, and rationally defend their point of view?” I escaped, fled to a warmer climate and pursuit of a PhD. I ran from the cold winters and insular environment. I moved to Tucson, a place where the sun shines every day and where we praise brightly painted buildings, particularly purple and yellow ones.

I admire the campus during the tour. The majestic oak trees are in full leaf and squirrels play on the grass. It’s a perfect postcard day, sunny with temperatures in the low 80s—the type of day alumni weekend planners and college recruiters pray for.

Amanda, a student in the College, gushes about Chicago’s academics, campus life, and the Hyde Park community. She overflows with information and enthusiasm. Her perky attitude is not a characteristic I remember of my classmates. Some of us honed the ability to avert our eyes from fellow students as we walked through the quads, our internal monologue far more important than interaction with others.

Time has treated the campus well, better I suppose than its alumni, at least in outward appearances. The ivy-covered buildings are free of gray hairs or expanding waistlines. The grounds are immaculate, the grass emerald green and manicured, the flowers abundant in weed-free planters. I am overwhelmed by the number of new buildings—time has cast a Midas touch on the institution.

My memories unfold with each step Amanda takes. While she points elatedly to various landmarks, I whisper to my daughters their relevance to me. I ate lunch in the C Shop. I watched movies in Cobb Hall. There was my favorite spot on the quads, where I read a book on a sunny afternoon. With each of my vignettes, Lyda rolls her eyes in a way only teenagers can. Four-yearol Ava, however, still at the stage where I walk on water, announces, “Mommy used to work in the Admin building.” Everyone laughs, except her older sister, who stands there mortified.

I find, surprisingly, that my feelings toward the place match those of the tour guide. My baggage is gone, strewn across a quarter of a century of time, like an open suitcase on the luggage carousel of life.

After earning a PhD at the University of Arizona and establishing an environmental consulting firm, I have learned that few can write flawless technical reports, defend their position, or think beyond the pabulum handed to them by university professors, bosses, or politicians.

Looking back over the two and a half decades since I graduated, I realize I made the right decision in choosing Chicago. The institution, faculty, and my fellow students shaped who I am today. They taught me to think critically and to write. They taught me how to communicate my ideas. I wouldn’t be the person I am without my Chicago education, and I am grateful. I hope my daughters find their own Chicago.