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Center of Campus, Center of Life

AmandaKennedy's picture

When Henry David Thoreau wrote in “Walking,” “How womankind, who are confined to the house still more than men, stand it I do not know; but I have ground to suspect that most of them do not STAND it at all,” he must have been referring to Mawrtyrs. We have a keen ability to sit in hard chairs all day, perhaps in their carrels in Canaday or Carpenter or around a table in a classroom, pouring over textbooks or activating Serendip. And this is not always a choice because of the pure rigor of our environment. (Welcome to senior year.) We tend to exercise our minds more than our legs. And often, we our brains are so exhausted that when we do walk, it is the distance from our desks to our beds.

Since today is Sunday, a day free of classes, I decided to take a break from my studies and meander across campus. Bryn Mawr truly is beautiful, especially in the sunshine. All jokes aside, I love talking walks around campus and do it often: to clear my mind, to be freed from the Internet and my vastly growing collection of academic articles, to simply revel in the splendor of greenery on Senior Row, behind Ermdan, or in front of Rhoads. I also enjoy gazing at the bold and beautiful buildings of Bryn Mawr. Thoreau writes, “Then it is that I appreciate the beauty and the glory of architecture, which itself never turns in, but forever stands out and erect, keeping watch over the slumberers.” I can say the same.

            I was met with the challenging of determining where on earth the center of campus is located. As someone who has lived on both edges – across the Valley of Death in Brecon as a freshman and next to the dining hall in Erdman as a senior – I have a clear understanding of the perimeter of campus, but perhaps not the exact center. I ventured that Merion Green serves as the center, the area where the May Poles are, where graduation is held, and where Ferris Bueller’s Day Off shows during every Hell Week. Not only does it seem geographically central, but it also is the place to congregate for big events.

            Plenty marks the edges of this place: sidewalks, macadam, trees. And because this center comprises exclusively of grass, buildings also line the margins (Radnor, the Campus Center, Merion, Denbigh, Taylor, Canaday). A new, temporary, and somewhat odious feature this year is the addition of construction – and the subtraction of some trees – throughout Merion Green. Green mesh imprisons the space, and screaming yellow caution tape wraps around orange traffic cones. Not much traffic goes across Merion Green, though – people go around, but not through. The college has even instructed them not to step foot on there: “PERIMETER GRASSES ARE NEW AND NOT STABLE. PLEASE STAY ON THE PATHWAYS,” little white signs say on one side of the Green. Tarps and bales of hay are everywhere. It looks like the setup of an odd petting zoo gone awry. Lamplights with bright blue Bryn Mawr banners stand tall as beacons, beaming the grandeur of the college, but mere footsteps away (or not) is a mess of materials.

            Also quickly becoming forgotten about is the “cow path” that stretched like an hypotenuse across Merion Green, a self-made student foot path patted down to dirt from hundreds of thousands of foot steps taken across the years. Part of it remains, but most of it is shrouded by green mesh. The earth gave way for student mobility – so why mess with a good thing? Shoes may have become dirty after a rainstorm, and mud may have splashed into the grass, but it worked. And the earth seemed grateful. Now, students have to walk around the perimeter to get from Canaday to the Campus Center, and the beauty of the space is masked by mesh and cones and unnatural colors. Perhaps the end result will enhance Merion Green, but at the moment, it is hard to appreciate. (The college did string hammocks from tree to tree at the end of last semester, which did provide ample opportunities to relax and gaze up at the leafy loveliness of nature, so I definitely appreciate that gesture.)

            Feeling an urge to move away from the construction, I decide to take a walk down Senior Row, a path lined by trees that only seniors can walk through -- as tradition goes, Mawrtyrs of other years must weave through Senior Row; otherwise, a straight path brings them misfortune. As a newly minted senior at Bryn Mawr, I revel in walking down Senior Row, beginning at the edge of Merion Green. The fact that I really am a senior never ceases to amaze me, and I am reminded of this again as I begin my walk down Senior Row. The farther I walk beyond the center of campus, the more I realize that I am already headed to the periphery of my time here at Bryn Mawr. How can this be? Having the gift of walking down Senior Row is meant to signify coming of age, a “central” moment or series of moments that suggest a transition between two stages, in this case, “studenthood” and “adulthood.” Right here, right now, Bryn Mawr is the center of my life: academics, friendships, extra-curricular activities – I even sleep and eat here. What excitements, traumas, and opportunities may arise the farther I walk from the center of my life at this moment? I will only have to continue walking down Senior Row in order to discover.