David Harris: My first college tour

Thursday, December 10, 2015 - 5:15pm

I have a confession: I never took a guided college tour of the University. Or really of any other school.

There just weren’t really any other colleges I had much interest in going to. With two University alumni parents and living close enough to campus to visit Ann Arbor often, it never occurred to me that I’d ever need a tour. I was lucky enough to be accepted here and just showed up — no Campus Day or anything.

It’s not that I haven’t visited campuses elsewhere. I think college campuses are wonderful places, each with not only its own unique layout and architecture, but also with its own culture. When I was out in the San Francisco Bay Area for a prospective job a few months ago, I went out for a little over a day just to walk around Stanford to observe something different than my own campus experience in Ann Arbor. My other memories of roaming around other college campuses as I traveled to watch Michigan football games are much better than the scoreboard, as I’ve yet to actually see a road win. I just never had a guided tour and left it up to myself to explore and discover.

Therefore, it’s only natural that I’m slightly intrigued when I see the packs of high school students and their families roaming the campus, looking as out of place as they do. I was never one of them; it was an experience I simply skipped. So to compensate for not having gone on a campus tour myself in high school, I decided to stop and listen with the tour groups at a couple spots around campus because I am a senior and allowed to do whatever the heck I want to waste time.

I learned things on the tour that I didn’t know despite all of my time at this campus. Friday tea at Betsy Barbour Residence Hall is actually a thing. Apparently there’s an urban legend that the Law Quadrangle was a backup filming location for Hogwarts. And people erroneously believe there’s a University of Michigan flag on the moon. I wanted to ask a tour guide if I’m allowed to step on the block 'M' if I’ve never taken a single blue book exam in my entire college career here, but decided there has to be some other stipulation in the curse for engineers.

More intriguing than touring the buildings I live, work and play in every day were the people on the tour. There were the high school students, some clearly from somewhere down south and dressed way too warm for 35-degree weather. There were completely uninterested, younger siblings being dragged along. And then there were the loudest members of the tour: the parents. There was the overzealous parent overly concerned with whether her most beloved and precious possession (their child) was going to get into this school, pestering people with questions, having memorized GPAs, SAT scores and whatnot. There was another who saw a red cup left over from a football Saturday tailgate and became instantly concerned about her kid partying. There was the parent who asked a question about every single building.

And then there were the alumni parents. They remarked on how the UGLi was actually ugly when they went here before its remodeling, how they lived in the Law Library, how lucky the freshmen are to live in dorm rooms upgraded from glorified walk-in closets to air-conditioned glorified walk-in closets. They were walking “back in my day” machines, proudly adorned with Michigan hats and shirts. The campus has changed, but the memories remained.

In a few short months, I’ll be an alum of this university, too. I’m fortunate enough to have a job, no doubt due to the prestige of this school. That reputation is directly tied to those alumni who one day bring their children on these tours, where they walk through and remember the hours toiled in libraries, the club meetings in the Michigan Union and the fun all over the rest of campus. The value of my degree and every diploma issued by this institution is directly tied to the value contributed by them here, and so too does the standing and character of this school rely on all those who don a cap and gown in the Big House. It comes full circle.

The tours will always keep coming, the applications pouring in, the prospective students walking into our libraries as we study and roaming our campus among us. I might never have been one of them, but perhaps the very people on that tour, the kids and parents alike who will and have attended, are the ones on whom I am dependent to uphold the reputation of the University. What has been built through the years before us must continue after, and I feel lucky to be a part of that.

David Harris can be reached at daharr@umich.edu.