Marianna Bogucki, Conference and Event Services
Princeton Writes Prize
2014-2015 Staff Essay Contest
Part of my essay is inspired by a historical photo I once saw of campus. That photo can be seen here.
The leaves are falling, and the whole campus is revealing itself. The glory days of fall are gone; the Junior Slums left naked with their red and gold leaves in the gutter. The air is brisk but not cold enough to bring picturesque snow to cover up the browning grass and dying ivy. Spring is a distant thought, the peppermint pink cherry blossoms silently waiting to burst. Campus is colder, sharper, and greyer. Together with the campus community, the quintessentially Princeton buildings take their winter break, preparing for their January snowstorm photo shoots, first-day-of-spring frolics, and end-of-year celebrations yet to come.
One building, however, takes her brief moment to shine but only for those who care to notice. Peeking above the now bare tree line, framed by the puffs of industrial steam from the cogeneration plant, New South seeks just one moment in the sun. Too new to be photographed for advertisements and wedding photographs, yet she is considered modern in style only. Still, patiently waiting throughout the day, the cement behemoth knows that her moment of glory is coming. It always does this time of year.
The mornings are cold and dark as the first staff members arrive. Winding their way around the fences and temporary paths that change every day, they eventually find their way inside. Her once lush grass lawn has been torn up by construction and weather. Aggravated at traffic and an alarm that rang too soon, her occupants pull open her doors with force, tracking damp leaves across her polished floors. The brightly colored lobby is a surprise to first-time visitors, a splash of color in an otherwise monotonous building. She holds so many more surprises for those who look for them.
The sun rises a little higher in the sky as students arrive for their first classes of the day. The beats grow stronger and stronger in the dance studio, bringing life to the walls. These walls that enclosed what was once open to the air, creating a window from campus to infinity. She used to stretch high above the earth, daring those on the ground to look up at her, commanding their attention. These are the walls that brought her back down from the sky, anchoring her to the ground. Once a beauty of modern architecture, fifty years later she is aware of how ordinary she looks. But ordinary is not a characteristic a Princetonian is supposed to have; Princetonians are extraordinary.
At lunchtime the campus community files by her. Students on their way to their dorms, absorbed in text books or texting, are oblivious to her presence. Others are taking their daily trip down to Wawa. Their usual route has been blocked off, a real-life video game of navigation in the quest for a hoagie. The old path is no more, a tract of dirt where the asphalt had been. They curse the pit that has formed behind her, the fence that has appeared next to her through which they can see their destination but cannot reach it. Everything about her is an inconvenience. A building that serves so many purposes yet is always in someone’s way.
The days are shorter this time of year, noticeably so. By late afternoon the sun is beginning to set, casting its final rays across campus. The office lights that had lit her from inside begin to flick off. The staff members call it a day, satisfied with their work and anxious to get home to their families. As they head out they keep their heads down, bracing against the wind as they walk to their cars. They raise their heads only to discuss the day’s events with coworkers or to check on the progress of the construction. There is no need to look up, up to the sky. What is there to see but their darkened offices from the outside? What is there to see but seven stories of weathered cement?
It is at this moment, however, as the human lives leave the building that New South truly comes alive. On those cold November afternoons the fading sun bathes the building in hues of orange and pink as the rest of the campus descends into its period of darkness. Stoic and cold for most of her life, in that split moment she is warm and welcoming. Bursts of natural light streak across her façade, dancing around those darkened windows. Beams radiating from the sky pull her high into the air, levitating above the ground like she was originally meant to. To her knowledge no other building looks as good dressed up in pink as she does, and she glows for those who care to let her. Those who care to wait, those who remember to look up, are rewarded with a sense of peace from this unlikely source. The once ordinary building shows herself to be extraordinary, proving that no one at Princeton can truly ever be ordinary.