They say you never realize how much you miss something until it is taken away from you.

A loved one who passes away, a friend who moves across the country, my old Pokémon Blue video game that my mom always took away from me when I was grounded — we all face these trying times in our lives. Goodbyes are essential to existence, however tough and unexplained.

There are many charming things about this University, and somewhere down on that list, right after “has class in Wine Tasting,” are our wonderful cafeterias. After all, at what other school can you take a date to a $60 million restaurant for the low cost of a guest-meal swipe? Way to go, South Quad.

Most of my dining hall experiences involved stealing entire trays of cookies, storing them in Tupperware and carrying them to my room, as well as Frosted Flakes and salad with every meal because I’m a responsible college student. But also intrinsically tied to the experience was the impossible game of Tetris that was fitting multiple circular plates onto a square piece of plastic. But some men just want to watch the world burn, and thus, we were forced to part ways with our plastic dining companions.

Okay, that’s probably a little harsh. There are reasonable explanations for getting rid of them: saving water and resources needed to wash them, cutting down on food waste or more subtly training those of us who won’t be employed after graduation in the art of balancing multiple plates for our future of waiting tables. Rather, the real shame is that two years removed from their fateful departure, the Michigan winters have only become harder to endure as the main vehicle for being transported from point A on top of a snowy hill to point B at the bottom is no more, and it still hurts.

Sledding on a cafeteria tray has been a rite of passage for college students throughout the ages. In the college universe, where a sled would take up about 27 percent of the floor space in our tiny rooms, the cafeteria tray was a hero. It was not the hero that we deserved, but the one we needed.

At its surface, it is nothing more than a rectangular piece of plastic with some glossy coating that is almost certainly not environmentally friendly. But the uses of the tray are limitless. One day, someone had the idea to use it as a means of carrying food around. Another saw a snowy hill, lacked a full-featured sled and knew exactly what he was going to use instead. One day, I came back to my dorm room with the aforementioned 12-by-18-inch piece of plastic and decided to use it as a doormat for my wet shoes.

The cafeteria tray was the pinnacle of college resourcefulness. The average college student is broke, living and keeping all of his or her essential belongings in a room about the size of a walk-in closet, but the tray was a source of empowerment. It may be gone for now, but its impact will be felt forever. We never said thank you to this dark knight, and we’ll never have to.

No memoir could do these rectangular squares of freedom justice. It is said that you either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain. The cafeteria tray is forever the former.

Yet riddle me this: Bursley still has them.

David Harris can be reached at

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