When I chose to come to Drake I considered the academics, size of the university, location, job opportunities, and a lot of other factors. I never considered what would turn out to one of the most important parts of my Drake experience: the friends I’d make here.

As a first year floor, we'd go out to dinner together and even pose in photos like a cheerleading squad.

As a first year floor, we’d go out to dinner together and even pose in photos like a cheerleading squad.

From the first day on campus during Drake Welcome Week, I began to click with the other students on my floor and in my classes. Drake has a great system whereby incoming students are organized into First Year Seminars based on a common interest.  A group of 20 or so students all have one class together and all live together on the same residence hall floor. My FYS was titled “Coming of Age in the Cinema” so we shared a bond over movies and pop culture. I met my greatest friends at Drake that first week and we’ve shared a lot of great times since then.

This past weekend, we celebrated our own version of Thanksgiving, a Friendsgiving, if you will, complete with all the classic dishes and cozy holiday decorations. It was pretty cute, very tasty, and even fairly sophisticated. We used real plates instead of paper ones, so yeah, Martha Stewart would be proud.

The whole experience made me realize that I’m so lucky to have this sweet, goofy, hilarious bunch of people in my life. We were just kind of thrown together based on an interest in movies and a shared hallway, but two and a half years later, they’re some of the most important people in my life, and I don’t know what I’d do without them.

Holidays Gone Hip

Ah, the holidays. Generally perceived as a time for stuffy obligations, Des Moines finds a way to make the whole season cool. I mean, really cool. Last night was the East Village Holiday Promenade, a holiday kick-off celebration in one of our most fun downtown neighborhoods. The East Village is filled with boutiques, restaurants, and all kinds of shops and entertainment. So every year, they celebrate the coming December by keeping everything open late. The shops are filled with cozy holiday carols, free samples of food and drinks, and some great sales.

Some of the gang at last's year's East Village Holiday Promenade.

Some of the gang at last’s year’s East Village Holiday Promenade.

So, for the second year in a row, some of my friends and I bundled up and headed downtown for all the festivities. We walked around the tree-lined streets decorated with all kinds of beautiful holiday lights and decorations. While we shopped and scouted out all the free food and drinks, carolers roamed around, horse drawn carriages conducted rides in the streets, and ballerinas from Ballet Des Moines performed selections from The Nutcracker. So, yeah, it was pretty idyllic. Kind of like if a Dickensian Christmas village was populated with glamorous, hip young professionals.

But the great thing about the evening was that all of Des Moines came out. There definitely was the attractive, hip crowd who looked like they were modeling for Ray Ban. But there were also tons of families with young kids in strollers who provided the necessary dose of childhood holiday cuteness. On the other side of the spectrum, we also saw plenty of older folks roaming around enjoying the festivities, including a troupe of elderly tap dancers.

The whole experience was just representative of Des Moines as a whole. It’s a big enough city to have cool events like the Holiday Promenade and a wide population to come to them. Yet, it’s small enough that everyone was perfectly friendly and lovely as if we were just part of a small-town holiday a la Gilmore Girls. At these kinds of events, you’re bound to see a few people you know mixed in with the crowd. Last night, I alone saw four different current students and Drake grads I knew from campus out enjoying the East Village. And if that kind of community feeling doesn’t day “holiday season” I don’t know what does.

Fallin’ in Love with Drake

November means a lot of things: leaves, holidays, food, and even rampant consumerism. And at Drake, the former are on full display. The later not so much, thankfully.  But fall really is a beautiful time to be on campus. Thus, in the spirit of the obligatory “I love fall” post, I present my three favorite things about Drake University as we near the holiday season.

1. Trees on Campus Drake during the fall really is a college brochure designer’s dream. And although it sounds like a Hallmark movie to say this, walking to class through the fallen, golden leaves is pretty stunning. Iowa may not have New England’s foliage reputation, but I’d say we more than hold our own. Thus, as the fall leaves come alive on campus so do the instagrams to document the fall beauty. #nofilter

2. Hubbell Thanksgiving Dinner Many college students complain about their on-campus food, but Hubbell Dining Hall really steps it up, especially come the holidays. Every year, there’s a big Thanksgiving “banquet” in the Olmsted Center with all the classics—turkey, dressing, and pie, pie, and also pie. It becomes kind of a strategic endeavor for me and my friends (that’s right, I’m not just eating all this pie by myself) to plan out what to eat, what to share, and how to maximize the amount of desserts consumed. It’s the kind of noble venture the pilgrims would be proud of.

3. Academic Ramp Up and Ramp Down Despite all the fall joy, there are still classes to be contented with. The last few weeks of the semester, nearing the holidays, are simultaneously the busiest and also the busiest of the semester. Assignments pile up, paper deadlines near (or tests if you’re in one of those unfortunate disciplines who have such things). Yet, at the end of all the work, there is the promise of relaxation and enjoying the pleasures of Drake at the fall holidays.




From galas of rich people drinking champagne in ball gowns to celebrities adding their name to charity projects, “philanthropy” has become more of rhetorical label than anything. When a word like that comes to be applied to everything, it now means nothing. Especially on a college campus where there are weeks of “philanthropy” on a regular basis, institutional labels come to overshadow the real meaning of selfless volunteerism. And I think that’s sad primarily because there are so many great people doing incredible things on this campus. The spirit of philanthropy is alive and well at Drake, however hollow that label has come to be.

This week I witnessed a couple separate instances of what real philanthropy means. Wednesday night, we launched a Habitat for Humanity fundraising cleanup event at the Wells Fargo center downtown. Essentially, we bring a group of Habitat members to Wells Fargo and clean up trash and recycling after an event in exchange for a few hundred dollars to fund our volunteer projects and activities. This week, we were cleaning up after a hockey game, throwing away half-eaten nachos, emptying and recycling cans of beer, and simply walking the aisles of seats with giant buckets and trash bags. So, yeah, it’s pretty glamorous.

The great thing was that we had almost 20 volunteers sign up to do this. On a Wednesday night, there was a sizable number of Drake students willing to go strap on clear gloves and clean up the trash from rowdy hockey fans for no reward, no real explicit benefit. They did it because it would help Habitat, because it would others.  One girl even had the bucket of combined drink leftovers spill all over her arm, so there was a considerable sacrifice, but also a considerable reward.

The other instance of true philanthropy I witnessed was this weekend, at a Drake Up ‘Til Dawn fundraiser for St. Jude’s Hospital. Our Student Activities Board hosted a costumed photo booth for the fundraiser, and I’m so glad we got to be a part of the event. Students stayed up all night on a Friday competing in team challenges to raise money for the kids at St. Jude’s and bring greater awareness of childhood illness to campus. Again, there was no extrinsically motivated reason all these students chose to spend their weekend this way. The simple fact is that at Drake, there are a lot of really good people who want to spend their time doing good things, And whatever philanthropy has come to mean, that’s what it really should be about.

In Theory

Michel Foucault. It’s a name that strikes fear into the hearts of a lot of undergraduates. He’s the Voldemort of the humanities in that he can be kind of the worst, but we also wouldn’t really be ourselves without him. And, yes, that comparison may be a little extreme. I sincerely doubt Foucault ever said “avada kedavra” in his entire life, but he is scary because his work is dense, wide-ranging, and full of it’s own language of terms and lingo. And, yet, the man was definitely brilliant, and in a lot of ways, the biggest influence on modern humanities studies.

The text for Literary Theory Class. Yep, it's kind of intense.

The text for Literary Theory Class. Yep, it’s kind of intense.

This semester, I’ve gotten the chance to study Foucault and many others through my literary theory and criticism class. And while many groan merely at the thought of literary theory, I absolutely love it. The class experience has been the quintessential example of why I came to Drake: a brilliant professor teaching something I’m really passionate about with a small enough class that I can have a really active role in class discussions. Starting with the ancient Greeks, we’ve moved through the history of literary study examining the works of theorist from Virginia Woolf to Edward Said. And I’ve learned absolutely a ton along the way.

I’m so grateful for this experience partially because I may not get many others like it. Since I won’t be able to go to grad school, I’m counting on my Drake classes to present me with some of the higher level studies I’d otherwise be missing. The base of literary knowledge I’ve gained in this class has informed the way I see the arts and even content in my other classes. It’s good stuff to know. Also just so that if I ever go to a super-hip artsy dinner party I can join in the conversation with a Marxist reading of The Great Gatsby or something. (Clearly I’ve never been to one of those parties, but I’m assuming there are people in knit hats by the vegan food table talking about such things).

But honestly, this class has presented me with more that just fuel for snobby dinner parties. I’ve gained real knowledge in that I’ve had to work really hard to understand some of the content, but it’s been more than worth it. I’ve seen myself challenged in new ways in English studies and as a result, I know I’ve grown as a student and a thinker. And sorry if that sounds like a lame motivational poster for never giving up on learning, but it’s true. This is one class where I’m just really excited to go learn, even if that learning involves a certain long-winded fellow named Foucault.

Working for the Weekend

Weekend nights on a college campus must mean crazy parties. I blame Animal House, but there’s this definite perception of raucous celebrations, wild times, and just general youthful tomfoolery associated with the collegiate weekend. Somehow, this vision did not account for my college weekend reality: the couch stationed in front of the TV with hot chocolate and a blanket with sock monkeys on it.

The fact is that the party lifestyle really isn’t my thing (as if it wasn’t clear from my use of the word tomfoolery above). In fact, at Drake, there’s a pretty good-sized population who passes up the house parties to just relax or hang out with friends in a little calmer setting. What Animal House didn’t portray was that college students, especially at Drake, work really hard during the week to keep up with classes, work, and activities. We’re here for academic development and that stuff is just plain exhausting. So once Friday night finally rolls around, it’s hard for me to muster up the energy to microwave some dinner, let alone leave the house.

And lest I give too pathetic a view of my life and that of my fellow students, let me say that we do have fun on the weekends. There are always events going on both on and off campus. Plus, downtown Des Moines is minutes away with all of its nightlife, shopping, food, and entertainment. And, yes, there will always be parties. But I think the point is that the college recreational experience is more varied than John Belushi gave us credit for. Weekends are filled with a whole range of activities that go well beyond the parties people envision. My friends an I may spend a night going to see a jazz band at The Lift downtown or making dinner at someone’s house or maybe just eating Starburst and watching Scandal. Whatever it is, you just have to do what makes you happy. And if what makes you happy involves the word “toga”, then great. If not, there’s plenty else going on to keep you busy…or just completely relaxed.

Classy TImes

Now that Halloween has passed, it’s that season we all simultaneously dread and look forward to: registration time. This is the series of weeks in which Drake students register for the classes they’ll be taking next semester. When simply stated like that, registration doesn’t sound like the kind of process that would wear away at your existence and make you question every decision you ever have or will make, but trust me, it is.

On the one hand, it’s an exciting time. Looking through the course offerings and reading about the potential classes you can take is a blast. There are so many fascinating, varied classes at Drake that even the course offerings are an entertaining read. But then the reality sets in. Unfortunately, most of us are not at liberty to simply take interesting classes. Instead we must consider things like major requirements, timings, and graduation credit totals. And this is where the stressful part comes in. Every semester I’ve found myself panicking at the last minute before registration, pouring over credit totals and major lists, worried I will pick the wrong classes and thereby cement myself as the biggest failure the world has ever seen. There’s generally a lot of paper, worry, and chips and salsa involved in this process, but in the end, it’s always been fine.

This year I’m trying to start out with the mentality that I can’t screw up my future too badly because there’s a pretty great system in place to prevent me from doing just that. Drake sets required classes and credits not to confine learning, but to guide it. I have major and core requirements to fulfill so that I come out of Drake with the skill set and knowledge I’ll need in the world. And honestly, I’m really grateful for those confines. So, while I may not have to freedom to take every single class that interests me, I’ve taken some I never knew I’d be interested in and ended up learning a ton. There’s no doubt that the future is stressful, but at least I have the comfort of knowing that I will take the classes I need to learn what I want. But just in case, I’m gonna stock up on some chips and salsa. Wish me luck.

Hawke From a Handsaw

I love Hamlet. A lot. And I know that’s a strange thing to say because so many of my comrades drudged or sparknoted their way through the play in high school, but it’s always been one of my favorites. Hamlet honestly has everything you could ever want in a piece of literature: violence, romantic drama, existential angst, and of course, pirates. It’s not a perfect play by any means, but it is a beautiful, deep, and dark one, and that’s just great for me.

The problem was that until I came to Drake, I had a hard time finding others who understood my love for Prince Hamlet (my love for Prince Harry, on the other hand, was very well appreciated). Even in my excellent English classes, it was difficult to fully connect with other students over the play. And while there were a few other Shakespeare-fanatics, I just always assumed I was a little strange for spending my free time reading sonnets and watching the complete works of Kenneth Branagh. And, yes, I probably am still strange, but at least I now know that I’m not alone.

At Drake, I’ve found some incredible friends and English majors who feel the same way about Shakespeare as I do. In fact, I’m currently in a Shakespeare class where we’re spending a couple weeks studying the rotten state of Denmark. We’ve read the play, looked at some adaptations and scholarship and even just watched my all-time favorite film version of Hamlet staring the artful, angsty Ethan Hawke.

And while I’ve read the play a million times before, it makes all the difference in the world to share the experience with other passionate Shakespeare fans. We can talk about the heavy stuff that goes on in the play, but also just joke around about Polonius or discuss the pros and cons of Julia Stiles’ baggy pants in the film. I really am in a community of learners who understand me, and for that alone, the college experience has been worth it.