Married to Medicine

Married to Medicine

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Autumn Memories: Saint Olaf College

Um... read no further unless you're an Ole :)  This really has no general application or interest.  But if you're lucky enough to have experienced the magic of "The Hill," here's to reminiscing.  And if you happen to have stumbled on this while researching college for yourself, PLEASE do not overlook St. Olaf College.  It's not for everybody, but for those for whom it is, it's pure magic.

They call it "The Hill" because the 3,000-student campus sits atop a lofty hill in Minnesota, overlooking the quaint, historic college town of Northfield.  Breathing in elevated views of the Minnesotan countryside from buildings such as this one, the Camelot parallel won't escape you.  And if you're anything like me, it will basically be the culmination of all your princess fantasies and about 90% of your Halloween costumes.

Can I get a Rapunzel up here?

Even gorgeous in the dead of winter.  Check out this article on "Why a Winter's Morning at St. Olaf is Like A Vacation."  Great pics too.

Minnesotan countryside.

Northfield:  Adorable.  (a bit sleepy).
Olaf in the fall.  Brimming with excitement and happy reunions.
Olaf in the winter.  Too gorgeous to really care about the cold.
But that's just the backdrop, really.  The true magic at Olaf is held in its people.  First and foremost, in the lifelong friends you'll undoubtedly make, and in the warm, friendly acquaintances you'll see in your dorms and classrooms.  St. Olaf is a globally renowned music school, it's the #1 small liberal arts college for study abroad programs, it's a dry campus, and it's one of a few remaining colleges that maintain their Christian affiliations (in this case, ELCA:  very liberal).  Plus, it's in Minnesota and it's proudly slightly Norwegian.  It thus attracts a certain personality type, and while it takes some legitimate flack for being "insular," about 75% of students study abroad before graduating.  I spent an amazing year in France without paying anything over St. Olaf's admission (back then, a decidedly more impressive feat).  For those who have the means, the J-term (just January) programs like Theater in London, Art in Italy, Religion in Germany, whatever-the-excuse-to-go-to-Paris-is, and so many other programs all around the world are incredible opportunities.  My best college friend was in Turkey on 9/11 and Morocco shortly thereafter, on "Term in the Middle East."

Wholesome fun on a dry campus.
As a result of its strengths and its limitations - it is, after all, a fairly small campus in a small town, and you are required to live in dorms or honor houses on campus all four years - there are distinct characteristics that make up the typical Ole.  They tend to be what is for me (and many others) a perfect combination of traditional and wholesome, but open-minded and creative.  Yup, they're somewhat sheltered, and at times it can feel like a prep school.  But they are what they are and it is what it is, and most Ole alums hold their campus memories very near and very dear to their hearts.

*Sigh.*  I could go on and on about the myriad of other things that make St. Olaf College my favorite place on Earth, and that cause my heart to ache with longing whenever I view pictures of campus and whenever autumn rolls around.  The food (#1 in the nation), the fantastic professors, and the small class sizes.  The favorite Northfield hangouts (Hogan Brother's, baby), the exciting trips to the Twin Cities, and the traditional Norwegian Christmas Festival (complete with lefsa and lutefisk at the Caf).  And let's not forget The Cookie House across the river at Carleton College.  We owe many fun weekend evenings to a little old lady (Candace "Dacie" Moses, 1883-1981) who left her house to Carleton College on the condition that it always be open to students and always stocked with cookie baking supplies.  But I have to stop here, because my main purpose for this blog entry is to capture my own most treasured Olaf memories in writing, as they grow dimmer with each passing year.  So:

Before I even got there...
  • Road tripping to Minnesota with my dad, who wasn't going to let me overlook the small liberal arts schools he and my mom knew would be best for me.  I'd been set on going to UW-Madison until he dragged me all over Minnesota and waited patiently for me to attend classes and campus events.  We had the best times exploring St. Paul and staying at The Archer House (The Tavern) in Northfield - imagining his own grandparents on a date there as Carleton students in the 1910s.  It means THE WORLD to me that my father did this for me and these are some of my all-time most treasured memories.  I can't hear Sarah McLachlan songs without being taken right back.  
  • My weekend stay at St. Olaf as a "prospee."  The girls of Hoyme Hall were SO nice and SO friendly, they dressed me up as Pippy Longstocking for their Halloween party.   Literally every single person I met was kind and unpretentious.  A stark contrast from high school, and one I could not resist.
  • Returning to St. Olaf after a night out in Northfield and looking up at all the lighted dorms and buildings up on the hill.  Feeling SO jealous and wistful that my prospee host got to return to this magical place every single night.  At the time, I still felt I couldn't actually go to St. Olaf because it wasn't as academically competitive as Carleton or Macalester, my other top schools.  Attending St. Olaf taught me a lesson to which I attribute an enormous amount of my life's happiness:  Just because you can do something doesn't mean that you should.
  • Keeping the St. Olaf viewbook on my dresser by my bed and staring at it many, many times as a high school senior, unable to believe I was lucky enough to have it in my future. 
  • Imagining meeting a boy there.  Every Camelot needs a Prince Charming!  This boy would be smart and sweet and chivalrous, respectful and a person of great character.  I think I just described my husband :)

Those magical four years...

Leaf Pile Night.  Olaf magic captured on film.
Freshman year dorm with Hillary.
Freshman year dorm 10 years later, with Matt and Dear Husband.
  • Driving to Olaf with my parents and brother, and all of us crying when "Butterfly Kisses" came on the radio.
  • Week I:  Fun activities, awesome new people, a feeling of adventure I'll never capture again. Social nervousness but social acceptance.  Awesome food.  Falling asleep every night feeling like one of the luckiest people on the planet, excited to wake up to another amazing day.  Even without air conditioning AND with occasionally ice-cold showers. 
  • Finding and bonding intensely with my best-friend-to-be, Hillary Rhodes.  Laughing hysterically over the "gum letter" and just about everything else.  "Freezing time."  "We thought it was soundproof.  We thought that was the point."
  • Bonding with our partners in crime, Matt Wieland and Husband-To-Be, over lengthy debates at Goodbye Blue Monday coffee shop and leaf pile night.  Dorkily calling ourselves "the foursome" forevermore.  Chanhassen dinner theater. 
  • Heading off to meals as a group, walking down the sidewalk from Ellingson Hall.  That's the quintessential.  
  • Developing a big crush on Now-Husband.  BIG.
  • Sleepovers with Hillary in her dorm when her roommate was out of town.  Garth Brooks.  Friends in Low Places.  A-oo-oo!
  • Weekends at Hillary's aunt and uncle's mansion in the historic Summit Hill area of St. Paul.  Breakfast at Cafe Latte.  Truffles from Just Truffles.  Her uncle is Garrison Keillor... we were living out The Minnesotan Experience.
  • Trips to the Twin Cities, dorm corridor "screws" to the Mall of America. 
  • Chapel-naps. 
  • The new student center.  The luxury was fun, but we all missed meals and memories at the old one.
  • Falling in love with Now-Husband.  
  • The Cross Country "Screws" in the fall.  Feeling SO lucky to be my Now-Husband's date.  Mongolian barbecue.  Haagen-Dazs ice cream. 
  • Oh wait.  Were academics involved?  My favorite classes:  Speaking French with Mather, Religion with Schuurman, History seminars with Fitzgerald.  The entire French department.  Medieval History with Carrington.  
  • Morning runs with Hillary and/or Now-Husband.  
  • Chapel services, brunch.  Ole rolls at The Ole Store.
  • Due to the popularity of this post, I have had to remove my husband's first name.  I apologize for the awkward writing.  He doesn't want this link to come up when his patients google him.  
Sadly, this list and these descriptions can't quite capture the *feeling* of being in those moments and living that part of my life.  As the years roll by, my Olaf memories fade and I'm caught between trying desperately to keep them fresh, and then also trying not to think too much on them lest the potency of the memories dilute with usage.  So I've written it as best I can, and posted these photos.  Now, I must lock this blog entry away and avoid hearing Googoo Dolls "Slide" or Eagle Eye Cherry's "Save Tonight" on the radio - or ANY Sarah McLachlan (especially Possession) - rationing out these souvenirs as best I can.
Mellby (the nerdy dorm):  Sophomore year dorm with Hillary.
    Thorson:  Senior year dorm.
    Six years after graduation, on Old Main Hill.


      1. I love it!!! I have the same butterflies of nostalgia too! My favorite place on earth...and I feel so lucky that my parents now live in Northfield and I get to see it EVERY time I visit them!!! And my dad just got a job working in admissions...he's in heaven (class of '69 and it's his favorite place on earth too)!! Non-Ole's just don't understand. I've never met anyone who has as much pride in their school as Ole's do...not even Harvard or Yale grads.

      2. Thanks for this. I "accidentally" ran across this when trying to show a friend the most beautiful college around. The quote "Just because I can do something doesn't mean I should" really hit home for me. I have been accepted into one of the top theatre conservatories in the nation, but I feel I would be happier, and live a happier future through St.Olaf. Thanks so much for this, this is what I needed to take me out of my "am I making the right decision about where I want to go to school blues." UM YA YA!

        1. Awwww I LOVE hearing that!!!! I'm so glad my blog entry could offer a little insight into the magic of "The Hill." And I'm SO excited for you (and jealous) that you have the entire experience ahead of you. It will be the best 4 years of your life. Congratulations from one Ole to another :) -Lisa

        2. I became an official Ole today! Thanks again!

        3. YAY!!!!!!!! Um ya ya! You will love it. Keep me posted (if you even have time)!

      3. You kinda made me wish I could go to college again. LOL. Beautiful entry, beautiful school. My wife's family is from Minnesota (and Norwegian) but she hasn't been there in years. Sarah McLachlan brings back the college years for me too. Huge fan. I left the country twice to see her perform. LOL.

        1. Just saw this now - thanks for the post. Very jealous you got to see Sarah McLachlan perform!