Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Official NDP Parking Lot Survival Guide

   At Notre Dame, freshmen are lucky. Seriously, when compared to Horizon High School’s “Freshman Rodeo” (use your imagination) and Desert Mountain High School’s “Freshmen Friday”, NDP frosh are practically floating in and out of school on little clouds.
   What these freshmen do not realize is that their clouds are dark, ominous, and sure to bring doom upon anyone unfortunate enough to be caught in their path. These clouds are the freshmen parents, also known as the Horsemen of the Apocalypse as far as the NDP parking lot is concerned. Perhaps the NDP parking lot has always been a place of despair and destruction, but the common opinion among students is that this is largely in part of the all-too-green frosh folks.
   Well, nobody is perfect. So for frosh, their parents, and upperclassmen too, here is the NDP Parking Lot Survival Guide. It just might save your life.

Tips for freshman parents:
1.       Be Patient—your kid is going to be there in time. I promise. I know the first year is tough. You want to make a good impression, and you want to look assertive and aggressive in front of those teachers out there directing traffic. There ain’t no messin’ with me. I already own this place. My kid is going to roll over your kid, so you think you can cut me off, Mr. Cadillac? Think again.
   We need none of this. Worry about safety before your kid’s image. They have four years to work on that.
2.      Listen to the Traffic Directors—they are out there for a reason. Worried your son or daughter will scuff up their uniform in those ten extra steps onto campus? Put your mind at ease, for Dennis Uniforms are known for durability in these exact situations. So why not go ahead and pull all the way through like these ladies and gentlemen are telling you? It sure beats extending the line (that is already out to Bell Road) even further by trying to save your kid the walk. It builds character.
3.      Cut the chit-chat—it makes a long process longer. You have been waiting in line for 10 minutes. Whatever you wanted to say to your child could have been said then. Also, they know that you love them. If you want to tell them anyway, shoot them a text. Be honest with yourself, your kid is going to check their phone sometime during the day. The point is: we can try for a little more efficiency.
4.      Do not park—ever. Efficiency, folks. Think about it. Plus, you take someone’s spot (yes, we are assigned those things). This messes up the natural order of things, which makes everyone angry and brings the universe down to a path filled with chaos and turmoil. It will be on you. Want all that weight on your shoulders? Did not think so.
5.      Carpool—please. The less there is for you to worry about, the less there is for us to worry about. Make some friends. Make some schedules. Bang these things out. Please. Please.

Tips for freshman students:
1.       Be ready, for the love of Christ—because sometimes it is not your folks holding you back, alright? Is the ten extra minutes of sleep really worth it to have the necessity for an article like this? And none of this “throw your stuff in the back” business either. Put it on your lap so you can blast out of that car like the little rocket ships I know you can be.
2.      Help your parents—we know that they can hold things up sometimes with that coffee refill or the good ol’ “missing keys” charade. Instead of standing at the door like a knucklehead, try to keep things moving at a lively clip and drag your folks out of the house. Trust me, they do not want to drive you to school just as much as you wish they did not have to drive you. Everyone is in the same boat, so help bail some water.

Tips for everyone else:
1.       Arrive early—the madness begins at about 7:20. Anyone caught out after then is sure to meet a terrible fate. Do not be one of these unfortunate souls, for your own sake.
2.      Come up from Thompson Peak, not Bell—less cars = less excitement = less stress = a happier you (sound like an infomercial yet?). Coming up from Thompson Peak and then hanging a left into your designated lot saves a ton of time as opposed to waiting in the line of shame. Those people are the ones who wanted this guide the most. Take a moment of silence for their actions of bravery. Thank you.
3.      Buddy up with the security guards—they will help you. Nothing makes you feel more like a boss than a man in uniform blocking traffic so you alone can go where you need to go. It is a beautiful thing.
4.      Watch out for Vinnie—the man is omnipresent. If you try to cheat the system, he will somehow know about it, and he will (firmly) explain to you what exactly you did wrong so you will (absolutely) never do it again. Basically, do not try to beat the system. With Mr. Marchese at the helm, it cannot be beat (that is not a challenge; to try is to fail).
5.      Screw it, just freaking walk to school.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Hating on Tim Tebow and Having No Idea Why: A Critic's Confusion

   Think back to Jesus. He was a cool guy, I like to imagine. He was probably the best conversationalist at the (Last) supper table, he told a lot of neat stories, and he knew how to pass around the wine. On top of all of this, he was the nicest freaking guy in the history of . . . ever. Jesus was the opposite of the big bad college bro who headlines all the parties in the world today, because Mr. Christ does not need a lifted truck and a keg to make people happy (plus he does not fall under the stereotypical “total jerk” category).
   Tim Tebow is similar to Jesus in this sense, except that I totally hate the guy.
   I have not the faintest idea why, however. I just know that I love to see that guy lose. Seriously, it is weird. I hate Tim Tebow, but I should not, because I have no reason to hate him. He is successful, athletic, inspiring, faithful, and has a sense of integrity that would make Gandhi feel guilty. It should be awe-inducing, but instead, some sports fans find it disgusting. Why?
   Maybe we wish we were him. After all, no one can wear their faith on their sleeve like Tebow can. He is constantly opening up about his relationship with God, and it is not something that many people can do. He has won just about everything he has attempted, and he has been all over the globe on some mission trip or another, and he is receiving millions of dollars to sit on a bench and let broadcasters give him tips on national television. What the hell.
   Does all of this make Tim Tebow really hard to relate with? Absolutely. Nobody succeeds in every aspect of their life. Nobody has the courage to travel all over the world and profess their beliefs and work to make it a better place. And pretty much nobody makes millions of dollars to sit down and make sure that the Gatorade logo on their water bottle is tilted toward the camera.
   People like cheering for athletes who they feel they have a connection with. This connection can be established in a lot of ways. If you look at a guy like Tom Brady (who is practically a supermodel who just happens to be good at sports, and thus should not even be in this conversation), he has achieved his popularity through his underdog story with being a seventh-round draft pick. Peyton Manning showed his ability to relate to us mortals through his casual, blue-collar demeanor within his television ads. The everyday individual can connect with these folks because we have all experienced underdog stories in our own lives. We have all had to overcome various challenges of our own.
   If you asked me what the hardest part of Tim Tebow’s life was, I would say the criticism, but aside from that, does anyone know anything else that will help us connect with him? He was home-schooled (Are you freaking kidding me?! The guy barely had teenage-angst! Does he want us to bag on him?), he was highly recruited out of high school (the rest of us had to apply the old-fashioned way), and it appears that his highest level of work experience is the volunteer work he has done in the Philippines (I am not saying anything against that, because that is really amazing, but would it have been too much to ask for him to find a job at a Burger King or something? He could have quit after a week and it would not have mattered; it would have been something). Oh, and he wrote a book too. He has accomplished my personal life’s dream at the age of 24. Is that warranting enough to punch his perfect face?
   Maybe all of this criticism is a good thing. Could this be the adversity that we are looking for? If Tebow can overcome this and emerge into a fun, exciting player, I think a lot of people (myself included) would be ready to welcome him into their hearts with open arms. People who support him now are trying to point to things like leadership and winning as means of likeability. But can most of us relate to either? Most people work for somebody, and I am pretty sure that the last thing I won was a fantasy basketball league back in 2008. To a lot of people, these words are just extremely annoying; they do not convince us to start cheering for him. What will convince us is a story of overcoming the odds and defying all of the negativity that has surrounded Tebow since his rise to the pros.
   Tim Tebow is an amazing guy. I will be totally honest; he is everything everyone wants to be, but it seems that he is nothing anyone has been. I feel like a lot of people want to love the guy, what with all of his character and charity work, but we simply cannot. Right now, to a lot of average Joes and Josephines, Tebow is some kind of deity who has to come to show us the pinnacle of success, and then rub it all in our faces. Hopefully one day, all of this will change, because at the end of the day, a nice guy is just that: a really nice guy.
   The best part about hating Tim Tebow, though? If things do turn around, he will not be one of those guys to brag and say “See? I told you so!” Instead, Tebow is the kind of guy who will welcome his newfound popularity, and all of his former critics, with open arms. All is forgiven. What the heck, that is someone I think I can root for.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The College Quest--Part IV: Possessed by a Demon Deacon

   At home, we have a college map up on the wall in the hallway. Before this trip it was nothing more than a sad, sorry reminder of everything I was not doing to work for my future (this series just became a whole lot more ironic), but when the trip became a possibility, it was my travel guide. Somehow, a school in North Carolina called Wake Forest fell in with the Dukes and Vanderbilts, and when Dad and I rolled in to Winston-Salem, all I could think about was how pointless this stop was. The first thing I thought of when someone mentioned Wake was Tim Duncan, and he was a crybaby.
   I think most guys have had that experience where there is that one girl in your class who was always kind of “just there” until one day you turn around and you think, “Woah, when did she become so hot?” (Oh, is that just me? Yikes). Wake Forest is like that girl. Something I had had virtually no interest in became one of my favorite schools so far.
   The first thing I noticed was the campus. Wake is set a little bit apart from Winston-Salem, and the result is a happy medium between a city environment and a forest environment. There is the traditional Southern-style architecture that we had seen at William & Mary and University of Virginia, but the difference here is that everything looks like it was built yesterday. You have the huge lawns, the high steeples, it is all there.
   The visitor’s center was where our info-sesh was held, so I geared up for the standard numbers-crunch that was sure to be involved. Fortunately, the presenter focused more on campus vibe than hard numbers, so the end result was a surprisingly interesting schpeel. The first thing is that Wake Forest is clearly not looking for a bunch of superstars like a Duke or a Stanford would. They like smart kids, for sure, but things like grades and test scores take a back seat to your letters of recommendation and essays. This is because Wake Forest is all about class.
   Consider that Tim Duncan and Chris Paul are probably the two most athletically successful people in the history of the school, and you can see what I am talking about. Neither of these guys was a freak of nature coming out of high school, but Wake was able to take both of these talented young caterpillars and morph them into a couple of badass butterflies (Yes, I realize how lame that was. If you can do better, leave a comment). This is their goal: find people who have the potential to be stars, and make them stars.
   This might not make a lot of sense to the mind of an athlete. After all, you want the people who are already immortal in their sport. However, Wake sees these people as potential class-cutters who would sooner go to a party than grab some rest the night before a game. Those parties can sometimes result in, shall we say, unfortunate situations, and Wake wants no part of that. To date, Wake has had zero athletic-related scandals across all of their programs. That is character, my friends. That is class.
   This class leads to a distinctly Southern vibe of enormous hospitality. Everyone was pleasant to my father and I, even when we took a couple of unauthorized detours and customized our tour a little bit (We had to see the dining hall, and it was worth it. The place was excellent). Everything here comes back to your genuine sense of integrity, honor, and character. Above all, Wake wants a bunch of well-rounded, dedicated kids. It was a very welcome change from the geek-seekers you sometimes see out on the East coast.
   The worst thing about Wake was, weirdly, a person. When you go on these college visits, I cannot stress enough how important it is to put yourself in a group with a good tour guide. Our guide was stereotypically comparable to a zombie, but I would have honestly preferred it if she ate my brain at the beginning of the tour instead of steadily eroding it away with her dull words and lack of personality. She was from Winston-Salem, she lived off-campus (probably with her equally boring parents), she did not go to any of the sports games (cringe), and she did not eat lunch in the main dining hall, which I have already said was awesome (Hear that banging noise? That is my face hitting the keyboard repeatedly). She made my father angry to the point where I was glad he kept his distance to take pictures; he looked like a bull that was being teased by a matador. When we figured out what a drone she was, we started to break away from the guided portions and explore on our own, which was much more enjoyable.
   One of the things that people seem to hear about Wake is the Greek life. I will say it right now: I could care less about joining a fraternity. It just does not interest me. That being said, our guide put a huge emphasis on how central Greek life is to the social scene at Wake. I was worried. My father told me to think nothing of it. So I worried even more. Cover me in lame sauce, but I would rather have my circle of friends center around sports or something rather than beer. My father, who had come away just as impressed as I was, would have sooner gone through high school all over again than see me take anything Mrs. Robocop had to say seriously, so he lead me back into the visitor’s center to find another perspective. We found a former student, who completely slapped down what our guide had said. She explained that all parties were open to everybody, and that Wake’s welcoming approach to all aspects of campus life made sure that there was no rift between Greeks and GDI’s (non-Greeks). To show that numbers can be somewhat misleading, the high percentages are negated by a tendency of members to live in the dorms rather than the houses.
   Speaking of dorms, Wake has some quality residence halls. Each one has a large common area (We went in a freshman dorm, and it had a pool table, leather armchairs, and a rec room; a freshman dorm, ladies and gentlemen), fairly spacious rooms, and clean, adequately-large bathrooms. Anyone would be comfortable living there, I can promise that.

What Jumped out at Wake Forest:
   The number one thing is the vibe. Everyone here seems loose, welcoming, and friendly. Wake says they want kids with character and personality, and aside from one android of a junior, they have them. This is a Southern school with a definite sense of community and togetherness among its perfectly-sized student body of 4400.
   If you were worried about the lack of 5-star athletic prowess compromising competitiveness, put your mind at ease, sports fan. Wake competes in the exciting ACC, and with a mascot like the Demon Deacons (Stop for a second and think about the badassery in those two words. Makes a guy want to fist pump), you will find no lack of athletic spirit and enthusiasm.
   The library was pretty high-class as well, and it might please you to know that the building is also home to a 24-hour Starbucks.  If you like the morning paper with your coffee, Wake is home to the Old Gold & Black, a weekly student publication that is apparently very popular. If you want to know how good of a read it is, consider that I read it cover to cover. For a journalism kind of guy like me, it was a definite plus to see the kind of quality that was put into the paper.
   On-campus dining and the residence halls combined to make an environment that was looking to bring its students closer to home rather than push them out into Winston-Salem. As Wake requires on-campus residence for three years, this is lucky. I felt like it would take a lot of effort to miss living in an apartment or something along those lines in the city.
   Not that Winston-Salem is a bad town or anything. I actually thought it was one of the best surrounding communities I had seen thus far. There was a solid main drag with plenty of restaurants and bars. The artsy kids had plenty of galleries and theaters to choose from, and sports-junkies (hate the word “jocks”) have a minor-league baseball team to watch locally, as well as the options in nearby Charlotte, Durham, and Davidson.
   Another thing that you might hear about Wake is the preppy mold that the student body fits within. Right from the start of the visit, these guys were out to debunk that stereotype. The diversity of Wake was heavily emphasized. They require students from every county of North Carolina, and their national representation is more varied than what people have been led to think. Wake has sought to be rid of the New England prep-school tag, and they are adamant to show how they have made an active effort to pull away from a Northeastern demographic and are looking at applicants on a broader scale.

   Wake Forest went from the bottom of my college radar to smack in the middle. This place was extremely impressive, and a few quirks aside regarding Greek life, I can see myself going here. A great newspaper, club water polo, solid sports programs, and an exciting town in Winston-Salem are some positives that will play serious roles in the decision-making process. For me right now, this is a top-3 school. Period.
   As much as I wanted to stay and give our guide the performance review of her life, Dad and I had to zoom off to Davidson. I was ready to bet a hundred bucks that some kiss-ass was going to drop Stephen Curry’s name all over the place down there. I had the award ready.
   Oh, and Wake Forest’s winner? One kid wore a bowtie, the kiss-ass award equivalent of HGH. Had to hand it to him.

Me about to have my innocent little mind completely blown.

This, my friends, is the main dining hall. Look at it. Look at it.

This is the first of many embarrassing captions where I cannot remember for the life of me what building it is. Just thought it looked cool, to be honest.

A common area in one of the dorms.
I am always scared to put church pictures. It looks cool from the outside, so if you do not want to, you do not have to go inside. Breathe easy, now.

Questions or additional comments about WF? Share them in the comment section! I’m sitting on everything from hard numbers to more detailed information, so feel free.   

Sunday, August 7, 2011

The College Quest--Part III: An Award-Winning Visit to William & Mary

   When I ditched my dad in front of the admissions building at William & Mary and left him to go park the car, I knew I had already lost the kiss-ass award at this place (not that I was really looking for it). 10 minutes late. Awesome.
   The kiss-ass award is something I formulated on the three-hour drive from Charlottesville to Williamsburg. In case you have problems in the world of deductive reasoning, it goes to the biggest kiss-ass at every school. Maybe it should not be what I am thinking about on these college visits, but some of these people are un-freaking-believable. I decided that if these people can attain a certain level of exasperation in my head, they deserve some kind of recognition. Plus, it adds plenty of entertainment value.
   So with myself out of the running for the honor, I walk up to the woman at the desk and humbly ask where I go for the info-sesh. She points me in the right direction, and I head off only to find every late individual’s worst nightmare: a closed door. And wouldn’t you know it, they put one of those obnoxiously loud push-bar things on there to announce my arrival. When I open the door, I am welcomed by 70 people all giving me that same “let’s see the low-life who I will destroy in the application process because of this moment” look. I felt like I might as well have come in with my shirt off or something.
   The speaker, however, gave me a (very unnecessary) “welcome!” and resumed. She was asking where everyone was from like the UVA woman had. I was all ready to throw out good ol’ AZ and be the farthest traveler again when some punk girl in the front row spat out Shanghai like it was the hottest thing since the freaking iPod. I should tell people I came from Moscow or something, if these things are going to turn into the godforsaken World’s Fair. She took hold of the kiss-ass award for now.
   The info-sesh was pretty standard, but W&M did have a unique aspect to it in the sense that they had a student come up and share his experiences and opinions on things. After a while you see that a lot of these places are looking for the same basic stuff: leadership and longevity in extra-curriculars, a challenging yet successful high school transcript, and test scores that reinforce that transcript. There was not a whole lot you could not find online or in a college book, so I had my fingers crossed our tour guide would be a good one.
   The three guides we had to “choose” from (you are usually assigned one, but my dad and I routinely ignored this and went with whomever we wanted) were all from Virginia, so we had to base it off of personality. The girl we chose was really loud and was a double major in English and History (did they plan this for me?), so it was hard to say no. Plus, she had a track t-shirt on, and you will never find a tour guide anywhere that does sports. We capitalized.
   Our campus tour took us in a triangle, as this is how W&M likes to describe the structure of their grounds. The tip of the triangle is ancient campus. Wren building is its only structure, and the history and tradition of the school had huge focus there. The place was something like 300 years old, and it held true to the colonial style of red brick, white trim. Colonial Williamsburg is probably 50 paces from its front door, and the Sunken Gardens (the massive quad in the center of campus) is 50 paces from its back door. Like UVA, W&M was a place that thrived off of its tradition, and they wasted no time in showing all of us their crown jewel in Wren.
   Heading West from Ancient Campus, you come to Old Campus. Old Campus is dominated by the aforementioned Sunken Gardens, and this vast lawn is the place to be for W&M students. A lot of the social events on campus happen here, from a King & Queen’s dance to an outdoor movie night (themes include Disney Classic night and Natalie Portman night).
   Old campus contains all of the arts-oriented classes, so all of your humanities as well as social sciences are located here. The architecture still sticks to the colonial red and white, so you are not going to see any of those unusual modern structures coming out of nowhere like some Transformer robot in disguise. Everything just seems to fit really well with everything else, even when you do see the recent additions on New Campus (By the way, favorite building was without a doubt the home of the English Department, known to students as the one and only Tyler Hall. Did someone just say “destiny?”).
   If you felt some excitement when I said New Campus, relax. This is “new” as in the 1970s. So new for W&M, just not new for you. There are some sleek new additions that do a nice job of blending in, but there is still no compromise by way of the traditional Virginian look. New Campus is appropriately home to the sciences, but it is here on the perimeter of the triangle that you will also find your dorms and dining halls. The dining halls looked decent enough, and W&M uses a flex point system that gives student credit toward off-campus eateries as well.
   The dorms, on the other hand, seemed to be what you made them. Not all halls had air conditioning, but you could bring your own unit and have it installed for you. The room that was showed to us was nothing special in terms of space or splendor, so I think it is a safe bet to say that in general on-campus residence is pretty standard. Upperclassmen however, have a shot at a lottery system for one of several lodges, the top-of-the-line housing on-campus. Those looked awesome, but it is a tough shot to be picked. So if you are lucky, you can live like royalty here, but if not, it looks pretty average.
   As we progressed through the tour, I began to lose a little focus and started in on some people-watching. The kiss-ass award was still in the hands of the Shanghai chick, and she was not even on the same tour as me. So I looked for another candidate. I found someone arguably worse. You know that feeling you have when you watch an interview and you feel like the questions asked by the reporters are planted? One dad had that whole vibe going on. Our guide was pretty cool, but this guy seemed to be testing her the whole time. Are all residence halls co-ed? Yeah they sure are; they’re segregated by floor. Nod of approval. You pass question number one. Occasionally she would throw him an answer and he would exchange one of those stupid “we know something no one else knows” looks with his daughter. W&M certainly is the place for annoying looks. Parents: I do not care if you went to the school yourself. That was a long time ago. Things have changed. You do not know everything.
   We continued onward to the library. That same dad’s daughter started walking up on the curb like she was pretending to keep her balance. You know, the thing you did when you were four years old. I wanted to tell the test-question father that Williamsburg probably had a great daycare program, but our guide was going into class selection and with my own father right over my shoulder, I felt some obligation to pay attention.
   At W&M they require what they call “general education” classes. These are not set freshman courses like English 101 and such, but rather classes you choose according to your interest. For example, to satisfy a history requirement, a biology student who is not so keen on the past can choose to take “History of Emergent Diseases”, something more suited to their major. Honestly I do not know if this is a really common thing amongst colleges or not, but I thought it sounded really appealing. It was as close to having an open curriculum without actually having that open curriculum as you could be.
   The library was above average, but nothing that made me want to grab a book right there and ditch the tour. Some people were more concerned with the technology side of things, and I think it is pretty funny how the people you think would ask about computers, ask about the computers. Call me a slave to stereotypes, but something about these East coast schools seems to attract the most predictable people in the country.

What Jumped out at W&M:
   Aside from another group of more-distracting-than-they-should-be tour mates, a lot caught my attention at W&M. The smooth blend of architecture from Ancient Campus to New Campus was nice, and there is some serious tree action all over the place. It looks great. The school seems to have a fusion between Southern-style and colonial-style, and they pull it off very well. 
   On the academic side of things, the open schedule structure was really cool to see, especially for someone like me who may not be so keen on some subjects as he is others. The fact that each student is assigned an academic advisor to help with course rigor and balance was a relief as well.
   Colonial Williamsburg seemed very student-friendly, with all of the standard coffee shops and bookstores that tend to hover around schools like this. It was definitely the place to be if you are a history buff, many of the plantation-style homes are still around, and the town has plenty of access to all things colonial. If anything, it is a very unique place.
   Williamsburg contributes to an overall sense of history and tradition at W&M that is hard to replicate anywhere else. Our guide told us about more student traditions and superstitions than I could keep track of, and the result was a sense of community that is truly rare for a state college. Unlike UVA, where it seemed like people were looking for more excuses to leave campus than anything else, W&M had a feel to it that said the students liked to be together, and that was really neat to be let in on.
   Resources seem excellent here as well, with a small student-faculty ratio and a more-than-adequate library. Students are also given a free laptop their freshman year, and another one their junior year (to “stay current”). Do not tell me that has no appeal to you.
   Despite all of this, I do have one major concern about W&M: sports. Going to a school with “cheer-able” sports teams is really important to me. After all, is not a major part of the college social scene revolving around athletics? At W&M, I am just not sure you have a whole lot of super competitive teams. They are Division I, certainly, but it is hard to compare the CAA (Colonial Athletic Association) to something like the ACC or SEC.

   It was maybe only twenty minutes after our tour before my dad and I had grabbed our usual school t-shirts (he usually finds a shot glass too, I still don’t know when that trend started) and were on the road again. We could not see much of Williamsburg outside of the colonial aspect of things, and that remains my only nag about this visit. But all in all, with W&M you have another state school that can stand toe-to-toe with any respectable private school.
   The nest day we were slotted for Wake Forest in the morning. How much excitement could a hyphenated town like Winston-Salem hold? Apparently enough to house a school with the Demon Deacons as a mascot. This place already sounds better than I thought.

The Sunken Gardens. They do mean that literally.
You like that camera work by my dad? Look at that great horizon line . . . unbelievable.

Wren Hall, or Ancient Campus.

My dad did that stupid thing again where he hollers my name and takes the picture as soon as I turn around to try and make me look stupid. Well I was ready. Maybe too ready. That's the Crim Dell Bridge in the background. They say if you walk on it alone you are destined to be alone for the rest of your life, but if you walk on it with only one other person you are destined to be with them for the rest of your life. Is that a win-win or a lose-lose?
Questions or additional comments about W&M? Share them in the comment section! I’m sitting on everything from hard numbers to more detailed information, so feel free.