Appreciate old campus buildings for their history


Sabrina Yan

The view outside the Altgeld Hall, where the Mathematics Department is located, on November 6.

By Ellen Barczak, Columnist

The University celebrated turning 150 years old last year. Though compared with schools in Europe or the East Coast this anniversary may seem paltry or insignificant, as a native of Illinois, it fills me with pride and implores me to consider the history of this exceptional institution.

I’ve heard quite a few students here grumble about the old buildings, especially on the Main Quad. And while it is true that Altgeld, built in 1897, smells eerily similar to my grandparents’ basement on a humid day, I find myself often in awe of the history the buildings hold.

I’m not talking about the formal history of the halls around campus or about the architectural significance and beauty of them, although there is no shortage of either. When I see a building that looks a bit worn from the weather with creaky wooden floors and perhaps an antique aroma, I don’t see it as run-down and old. I see it as loved.

Loved by the students who attended lectures, who took midterms, who cried in the bathrooms after long and frustrating days. Loved by the professors who gave the gift of knowledge to their students, who completed groundbreaking research, who toiled grading papers for hours.

When it comes to serious studying, I head to the Main Library. The building has been in use since 1926 and is one of my favorite places on campus, mainly for its stairs.

It may seem a bit silly, but I judge the authenticity of an old building by how worn its steps are: a bit warped and smooth in the middle, a bit faded in such a way you can see the path everyone takes.

It’s no secret that college is no cakewalk. It is a journey often defined by countless hours of hard work, some punctuated with enlightenment, some with frustration. Walking up and down those stairs, though, reminds me of all who have come before, all those who have completed the journey successfully, going on to live meaningful lives.

A historic fixture of campus that is not a building, however, is Alma Mater. Originally placed behind Foellinger Auditorium in 1929, the statue now rests outside of Altgeld with two inscriptions: “To thy happy children of the future, those of the past send greetings,” and “Her children arise up and all her Blessed” (Proverbs 31-28.)

The quotes put into words the sentiment one feels when walking up those well-traversed steps: We did it, and so can you.

Whatever your beliefs or faith background are, it does seem a comforting notion that those who have come before you cheer you on and wish for your success. Especially at an institution with as much history as this one, it is difficult to disregard the shadows of successful alumni in which one lives.

So maybe next time you’re walking through the creaky floors of the English Building, strolling past the gorgeous Busey-Evans Residence Hall or trudging up the stairs of the Main Library, take a minute to breathe in the history, to remember those who have come before you and to remind yourself that you can do it, too.

Ellen is a freshman in LAS. 

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