It is a quiet Friday afternoon. The sun outside is a welcome brightness after a prolonged period of rain. I’m sitting in the lounge of my university’s memorial union passing the time, floating in that dreamy Friday sweetness of having nowhere to be and nothing to do.
The Memorial Union Lounge is my favourite room on campus. I love it in here.
The several most recent additions to Oregon State are shiny, minimalistic, futuristic, fancy-pants buildings made of glass and white and silver which have become popular spots on campus in which to idle. But, there is a coldness to their aesthetic which, for me, is distracting at best and anxiety inducing at worst. The MU Lounge is the opposite of all of those things, I think. It is old, and homey, and warm. The towering draped windows, deep colours of the mismatched furniture, the fireplaces at each end of the room, the artfully carved wooden beams outlining the ceiling, and the exposed spiral staircases truly make this place feel like everything university should be.
When I imagined myself going off to college, I always pictured myself in an old classic type of university scene. I figured I’d spend all my time sitting studiously behind sturdy wooden desks with one those little green lights that has a tiny golden beady pull toggle. The desks would be in a grand room where books lined the walls and everyone whispered Smart and Profound things while reading about philosophy or something sophisticated of the sort.
Despite the fact that it is not the nineteenth century, and I do not live at Oxford or Yale or Harvard or Cambridge, it is easy to feel like I do when I’m in the MU Lounge. There’s an ennobling feeling of intelligence and nonchalance simultaneously existing in a way that no other place on campus has been able to sufficiently emulate. I feel like I’m at college here.
One thing that continues to be striking every time I think about it, is how old this building is. I mean, by a university on the west coast of the US standards. The building was first opened to students in 1929, and I wouldn't be surprised if some of the furniture in here has been kicking about for close to that long. The main architect was an OSU alumnus who graduated in 1907 (his graduation year is stealthily incorporated into the moulding of the woodwork. How clever of him). Just think of all the people who have sat in here over the years, in these same spots, doing more or less the same things as we do now. That's the kind of thing that makes your head feel full. How many great ideas were born in this Lounge? How many genuine moments have been shared in this space? How many people, sitting coyly next to each other on a couch, held hands for the first time? On a campus where there is a lot of new, there's a comfort in the muchness of old.
Along with the esteem of the place is a humble sense of community. It has been nicknamed the living room of our campus, and it certainly is so. Students can grab a cup of coffee and perch themselves on an upholstered chair against the window to type or read or chat, or they can abandon all inhibitions and curl up on a couch for a nap. It is the custom not to mind. There is a dark grand piano sitting in the corner, always waiting eagerly for someone to play it. A lot of the time, people do. And a lot of the time, everyone will listen. I remember smiling one evening, as I was removing my headphones to hear the music, when I noticed that everyone else was doing the same. The shared respect for the space inspires respect for each other. Just the fact that people even feel comfortable enough to play speaks volumes to the power of the place.
The Lounge is a warm room where we can pause briefly or linger at length to do nothing more than just sit, if that’s what we have the energy for. It is our communal family room, where we can leave all of our belongings to pop off for a minute without worrying that someone is going to nick everything before we come back. It’s a haven where we can sit comfortably across from a sprawling stranger at the other end of a couch without any fuss. It’s a place that’s always loud with the quiet din of everything I thought collegiate life would be. I feel profoundly productive and useful here – like everything I accomplish while sitting in this space means more, in some way or another, and I miss being here after I haven’t been in a while.
It is the best place on campus. It really is.
(Plus, it’s got the biggest rug. The actual biggest rug.)