The Things They Carried

Having just spent several sweaty hours helping newly arrived first-year students lug their personal possessions up residence-hall stairs during Elmhurst’s annual move-in day on August 25, Ryan Maguire had earned the right to speak as an expert on the dangers of dorm-room overpacking. So he took a break from lifting mini-fridges and big-screen TVs outside Niebuhr Hall to suggest that there was something new students could do without.

“You really don’t need all those cleaning supplies,” Maguire said. “You never use them.”

Maguire, a junior from Gurnee, was one of 30 members of Elmhurst’s football team lending their muscle power to the Class of 2015’s big move last week. About 300 new first-years were laying claim to their new campus quarters. They began arriving early on what would prove to be a steamy 90-degree day, pulling up in vehicles packed nearly to the roof with snacks and clothes and consumer electronics. Maguire and his teammates were waiting for them, ready to help with the heavy lifting.

The luckiest football players were stationed outside Cureton Hall, with its elevators and air conditioning. Others had to navigate as many as four flights of stairs. They weren’t the only ones making the climb, of course.

“You see a lot of sweaty parents going up and down the stairs today,” Christine Smith, the College’s director of residence life, said. Mothers and fathers lugged desk chairs and floor lamps and throw rugs and newly purchased designer bedding down corridors and into the rooms their children would occupy for the year ahead. The move, after all, represented one last chance for them to demonstrate their parental devotion by risking major lower-back pain.

The sheer volume of personal possessions being moved was impressive. “It sometimes looks like they’re trying to cram an entire house into a dorm room,” said Mick Savage, a professor of kinesiology and Elmhurst’s director of service-learning, who was on campus along with other faculty for that afternoon’s new student convocation.

Choosing what to bring to campus may be, for some students, the first major dilemma of their post-scholastic lives. They do not lack for advice. Seventeen magazine’s list of must-have items includes an egg-crate mattress pad, an iron and ironing board, and spill-proof travel mugs. Some students coordinate room-decorating details with their new roommates via Facebook long before they meet on campus. The smartest take care to consult Elmhurst’s twin lists of items to bring (coffee pots, outlet strips, trash cans) and leave behind (grills, waterbeds, drum sets).

In a photo of one particularly monastic-looking 1920s-era dorm room from the College’s archives, the only personal items visible are a shelf full of books and a collection of school pennants strung near the ceiling. You could visit a lot of residence hall rooms today without ever encountering either a bookshelf or a pennant.

Every generation seems to make its own choices about what it will need on campus. Larry Carroll, the executive director of the Center for Professional Excellence, remembered heading off to Lewis University in the mid-1960s with a set of reference books since rendered obsolete by Google. Professor of English Ron Wiginton said he arrived at the University of Florida in 1973 with an eight-track tape player and a set of enormous speakers that made his room a campus focal point for ultra-loud airings of Peter Frampton albums.

If anything has changed since then, it is that so much of the stuff students bring to campus has shrunken to pocket-size. “Every year the technology gets smaller,” said Smith. And yet for Elmhurst’s newest students and their families, the challenge of moving all their stuff into their new homes is no less daunting—and only the first step in making the transition to life on campus. Which is why so many seemed so glad to have the help of veteran movers like Maguire.

Of course, the heaviest load for some new students can’t really be measured at all.

“The biggest thing I brought to college with me was my trepidation,” Wiginton said. “And a lot of these students are just as anxious as I was.”

If that’s a load some members of the Class of 2015 have to bear, they can rest a little easier knowing that they have help handling it.


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