I’ve spent the last several days trying to process how I feel about the announced closing of my college, Sweet Briar. Like everyone, I was completely blindsided by the news, having made a joke only the day before about whether Skye would grow up to be a Vixen or a Scottie (Agnes Scott is where my mother and grandmother went). Mainly, I feel lost, like a wonderful place just disappeared from the world. There are still a lot of questions that need to be answered, so I’m reserving judgement on the decision, but it has prompted me to remember lots of good stories from my four years in the pink bubble.
A favorite story is the time the campus ghost, Daisy, started haunting freshman computers. I was a freshman and my parents had arranged a job for me working the computer Help Desk in the Bookshop. This was back in 2002, so for some context, ours was one of the first classes where laptops were more common than desktop computers for students. There were no smart phones.
I was hired with no interview other than to list the repair certifications I had, given a master key to the college, and sat at a desk taking phone calls and visiting students rooms. Three days a week I spent a couple hours handling the college’s tech support (my junior year, the Help Desk spun out to a different department and I was only responsible for warranty support for the computers we sold).
My work mainly consisted of “my printer doesn’t work” (reboot computer), “I can’t connect to the internet” (reboot computer), “my computer is frozen and dad says if it’s dead I can buy a new one so can you please just tell me it’s dead” (reboot computer).
A week or two into this, rumors started in the freshman halls that Daisy, the ghost of our founder’s daughter, was haunting freshman computers. The computers would, randomly, start typing gibberish. When the girls would get freaked out and say that Daisy was haunting the computer, it would start typing “Daisy, Daisy.”
While a haunted computer might be scary, it hardly rises to the level of a tech support call because it was a few more weeks before one on my hallway started typing Daisy and I was called down (off the clock) to inspect.
Sadly, the computer wasn’t haunted. But unlike today, where everyone is walking around with Siri in their back pocket, voice dictation was a new (and not terribly functional) feature. All the Dell laptops had been shipped with voice recognition turned on. My friends diligently banished the ghost while I turned off the voice dictation and spread the news across campus on how to remove the ghost from your computer.
There are, of course, an endless number of wonderful experiences and stories of professors and I’ll be headed up to the reunion in May to visit with friends and faculty and enjoy the stunning beauty that is the Sweet Briar campus. I might even drag Geoff along and show him all the trails I hiked for my other campus job – being the TA of the Hiking class.
Sweet Briar was a special educational environment for a lot of reasons – but the professors made it especially so. Bright freshmen were welcomed in upper level classes; professors not in my department were personally interested and invested in my success. They took me seriously when I jokingly said I wanted to be a “l33t hacker ninja” when I grew up. I was allowed to explore academic areas that were of interest to me – from computer science to policy to history to photography (the quintessential value of the liberal arts education).
Just one example – every morning at 9am my senior year (both semesters), I participated in what I referred to in my head as “The Caroline and Professor Chase Show.” This was probably a comedy, though not in the way I thought of it at the time. I grabbed my diet coke (major caffeine addiction by this point) and set out across campus to the tiny Computer Science department where I sat in a classroom as the only student with the head of the department while he tried to pour into my head networking, logic, programming, and many other higher-level concepts on the inner workings of computers. He would lecture, I would attempt to pay attention and take good notes. And then I would be turned loose in the “networking lab” – a closet-sized room with stacks of networking equipment, a Linux computer, and endless possibilities. And then my favorite, the logic puzzles. How would you write a program that handled this problem? While I was an indifferent programmer, I loved algorithms.
But let me back up – a whole year where every day I had the undivided attention of my professor and was able to take the classes in directions that interested me. Mainly because most years the Computer Science department was churning out a good number of diligent programmers, but for some reason, there was only me my senior year.
And maybe this was part of the problem – the college offering too many options to too few students. I didn’t think at the time anything beyond how lucky I was to get so much individual attention from my professors.
So while we don’t yet know what the final outcome will be, I do know that I still have connections to the faculty and a wonderful group of friends that together, helped me become who I am today…
…a l33t hacker ninja!