Southwestern's Academic Mall

It blows me away that I’ll be graduating in May. I’m not sure how four years have flown by or where I’ll end up in a few months, but one thing I do know is that I’ve had a wonderfully strange time at Southwestern. I’ve lived what feels like many different lives on this campus: I’ve changed my major, I spent a brief time in a sorority, and I even swam for the University at one point. When I think about what the past four years have been like for me, I think of dance parties in my room, walks around campus with friends, and the time a few Kappa Sigs invited me to play Dungeons & Dragons. I’m constantly thinking of these memories, plus many more, as my time at Southwestern comes to an end. What follows is a retrospective account of some of my more amusing, if not strange, memories on Southwestern’s campus. Enjoy.

Destination 1: Exorcising caution

Starting at the beginning, with my first encounter with the University, I wonder how I ever ended up enrolling here. At 18 years old, I had no idea where I wanted to go college. All of my friends were making plans to attend state schools while I scrambled to find a university, any university, worthy of my parents’ tuition money. However, my first visit to Southwestern’s campus left me hesitant and wary of Georgetown. After visiting a particularly large, burnt-orange university, my mom surprised me by pulling off the highway and driving us through Southwestern’s small campus. Having already toured one college that day, I was exhausted and annoyed that we were touring a school I had never even heard of. To make matters worse, it was fall break, which meant we were driving through an empty campus devoid of any students, staff, or faculty. After driving around campus a few times, my mom grew weary of my complaints and decided to cut her losses and take us home.

Headed for the highway, we decided to stop at the McDonald’s off of Austin Avenue so I could use the bathroom. However, this was no normal public restroom. From the moment I walked in, I heard a woman talking loudly, seemingly to herself. She kept repeating religious phrases and the word “demon,” which gave me the impression that she was performing an exorcism on herself. I had never witnessed an exorcism apart from those on television or in movies and was stunned that I had stumbled upon one being performed in a public bathroom. I hurried out of there as quickly as I could, thoroughly creeped out and convinced that Georgetown was the last place I wanted to live. When I think back, I can’t help but wonder why I looked past this strange encounter and chose to enroll at Southwestern. Maybe I secretly thought the public exorcism was cool, or maybe my financial-aid package was enough to silence my apprehension. Whatever the reason, here I am, four years later, about to graduate—without ever having gone back inside that McDonald’s.

Pirate Bike

Destination 2: Pedal to the metal

The next stop on my journey down memory lane took place during my first night on campus, when my roommates took it upon themselves to teach me how to ride a bike. Curious about our new home, we decided to explore campus with an idyllic Pirate Bike ride. Even though I had ridden a bike once or twice before, my skill level could be described as amateur. To help combat my lack of cycling skills, my roommates shouted tips at me and were even gracious enough to slow down to accommodate my less-than-skilled riding. They rode alongside me, laughing when I would lose control of my bike and offering help when I needed it. We three rode in circles around campus and raced around the Academic Mall, my roommate always pedaling the fastest and performing more advanced maneuvers than the rest of us. While I struggled just to keep my bike stable, she was more than comfortable steering with her feet perched on the handlebars and jumping off curbs.

We pedaled for what felt like hours until we spotted fireflies floating in the dark over by the chapel. They were dazzling and beautiful … but even more, they were distracting—so much so that I didn’t notice the upcoming crack in the sidewalk. When my bike hit the crack, the front tire stopped, causing me and the bike to flip, skid, and come to a halt further down the sidewalk. My friends were forced to dismount their bikes because they were laughing too hard at me lying on the concrete, also laughing uncontrollably. Aside from a skinned knee and bruised ego, I was more shocked that I had been thrown from my bike than anything else, and in the following weeks, we continued to go on frequent bike rides. I think back to that first night on campus and can’t help but feel that this was the moment where I began to feel that Southwestern was my home.

Destination 3: Southwestern goes wild

“Don't mess with Texas squirrels.” - Sam Rao ’19“Don't mess with Texas squirrels.” - Sam Rao ’19Unfortunately, while my riding abilities might have improved, my luck with Pirate Bikes did not. One day, as I was riding around the Mall to get to class, I noticed a squirrel sitting directly in my path about 10 feet ahead. It was looking right at me as I closed the distance between us, as unflinching and unyielding as a statue. Each rotation of the pedal brought me closer to the stubborn (and perhaps suicidal) squirrel, and I remember chuckling when I realized what was happening: I was playing chicken with a campus squirrel.

Now, for those of you betting on the outcome of this standoff, let me just say that the squirrel won. My conscience forbade me from knowingly running over a living creature, so when the squirrel still hadn’t moved out of my way, my best option was to veer to one side and hope that I had avoided rodenticide. As a result, I narrowly escaped another fall and went off-roading across the Mall. When I turned around to make sure the squirrel was all right, I saw it in the same exact spot I had left it, totally unfazed. The moral of the story: don’t mess with Texas squirrels.

Aside from that particular squirrel, I’ve had plenty of other wildlife encounters around campus. I frequently see deer running around the school, and I’ve even had a campus cat let himself into my apartment before. My most memorable encounter took place on my very first morning of swim practice. I had swum in high school and was recruited to swim for Southwestern but ultimately decided not to. But after taking a yearlong break from the sport, I couldn’t deny that I missed swimming and joined the team my sophomore year.

On the first morning of weights, I woke up at 5 a.m., half asleep but ready to haul myself out the door. I had planned to carpool with one of my friends and was waiting for him when he sent me a text letting me know that he was outside. My phone buzzed a second time. This time, he apologized for not coming to the door and warned me to watch out when coming down the stairs. I was confused by his vague warning until I opened my front door and caught a glimpse of the staircase, at which point I saw the problem: there was a possum clinging to the staircase railing. Part of me thought it was cute, but the other (and more reasonable) part was worried about rabies. I had no idea what to do: I either had to (a) pass by the animal or (b) turn around, go back to bed, and forget about making it to practice. I looked at my friend, who was amusedly waiting at the bottom of the stairs, and then I looked at the fuzzy white possum. In that moment, I decided I wasn’t going to let a marsupial intimidate me and descended the stairs by hugging the railing opposite him. I kept thinking about what the heck I was going to do if it moved even an inch in my direction—most likely something cowardly. Luckily for me, the possum seemed genuinely uninterested in me and allowed me to escape rabies free.

Though the majority of my time has been split between sitting diligently in lecture halls and galavanting around campus, it’s these unusual moments that have managed to stick with me as the pinnacles of my Southwestern Experience. These are the stories that I’ll cherish and retell with a smile years from now when friends ask me about my college days. 

After four years, two capstones, and 140 credit hours, I’m exhausted. But I’m also incredibly proud of myself. I’ve written dozens of papers, medaled at a collegiate conference championship, and cultivated lasting relationships with students, faculty, and staff alike. However, memory is a bizarre thing. Though the majority of my time has been split between sitting diligently in lecture halls and galavanting around campus, it’s these unusual moments that have managed to stick with me as the pinnacles of my Southwestern Experience. These are the stories that I’ll cherish and retell with a smile years from now when friends ask me about my college days. All strangeness aside, if you take anything away from these stories, I hope it’s the desire to make your remaining days as a college student count.