Yesterday, I was sitting in the ballroom on campus at Oregon State University. It had been many years since I had been there of course, so long in fact that I had forgotten it existed.
As I walked in I stood in wonder as it was completely unchanged. So many things have changed, but not this. The warm wood paneling, the wide stage and arched neoclassical windows typical of the 1920’s architecture were untouched.
The last time I was here I was walking in the Moms Weekend fashion-show that was put on by the College of Business Fashion Merchandising students. I remember wearing a white lace dress and walking down the long runway, stopping, then pivoting and walking back again. It was late spring and the show was sold out. People were lined up against the walls on all sides of the stage. We can’t go back in time, but on this day it certainly felt possible.
I take a seat in the front row and pull out my parent orientation schedule for the university. I look back at my eighteen year old daughter standing in denim shorts and white tennis shoes against the dark oak paneled wall behind me. She looks so much like me it’s actually eerie like a portal through time. We have been here for two days for her student orientation. There are layer upon layer of memories for me as this is my alma mater.
As the day progresses, I remember things I’ve not thought of in years. I walk through the Memorial Union and climb the stairs to the second floor where the Student Foundation offices once were. I sat on their board as the publicity officer and ran fundraising then. As I walk by for a moment I am that girl again wearing my blue and white pin stripe button down shirt with my name embroidered below the university emblem. Then, the past recedes and I walk to the end of the hall and take a seat to listen to a presentation on how to incorporate ocean studies into majors of other disciplines for my daughter.
In the afternoon we tour the Weatherford Residence Hall built in 1928 in the Italian Renaissance style. It was closed in 1994 for a decade of renovations. It’s now called the castle with a giant arch on the ground floor and balconies on the upper floors. It is reserved for first year business students as it sits steps away from Austin Hall the new state of the art College of Business building. It has a beautiful cafe now and class rooms for business students at street level. Even with 24 million in donations they couldn’t do much about the narrow crooked hallways. The ceilings are still low and the rooms small. I remember being kicked out of Weatherford as a freshman. Back then it was a men’s dorm and women weren’t allowed there past eleven p.m. That is no longer the case.
As we enter the library on the fourth floor one of the parents whispers to our group that the building is rumored to be haunted. I’m not sure about that, but if it were possible, this is as likely a place as any for a ghost to reside.
As adults we treasure education, and all of this made me want to go back to school and earn another degree, but when I was a student here we didn’t think of it that way. Although, I did value my education I was known to fall asleep often in public. The Memorial Union sofas were my first choice, or on the fourth floor of Kerr library. The small sitting rooms on each resident floor in Weatherford have soft olive green velvet chairs and reading lamps. I can see my daughter here, not napping with a book like I once did, but with a computer tapping away at the keys.
In the College of Business we sit side by side in the auditorium. The director of students asks the students to take time to talk to their parents about what they studied at eighteen. My daughter turns to me, and I tell her that I studied oceanography. There was a time when I had wanted to be an oceanographer. She is surprised as she had never heard this before and I hadn’t thought to tell her.
My daughter has no interest in oceanography, like her father she is interested in astronomy, proving she can look like me, and not be like me. She is holding her own separate set of opinions and interests as she always has.
I had long forgotten my foray into oceanography until that moment. In those freshman classes I acquired a foundation that has helped me to develop my understanding of the wind patterns and ecosystems of the ocean that I use today as a sailor. By the end of freshman year I had abandoned the ocean for politics. Then, I worked in tech and marketing. Now, I run my sailing apparel company that incorporates all of these.
My years at Oregon State gave me knowledge of; conservation, communication, clothing, and the outdoors. It doesn’t matter what you study for none of it is lost and it is all useful and valuable in some way.
As I sat in Austin Hall in Corvallis it occurred to me that everything I’ve done with my life up to this moment has all worked together in perfect harmony. Studying oceanography, and being surrounded by friends in fashion where I watched them make their own patterns and set up their sewing machines in the Alpha Phi dining room. These things helped me when I took up sailing, and my friends and their patterns gave me basic knowledge as I went through my first clothing production. Working in marketing on Market Street in San Francisco during the tech boom placed me in the middle of an intense start-up. In this fast paced environment we worked insane hours and did multiple jobs in a rush to market. I set up e-stores and fire walls and ran pricing models. There were days when I didn’t even have a chair to sit in because they had all been pulled into the conference rooms for investor pitches. Now, I am at the helm with my own products, but I know what to expect and how things work. All of this has created the perfect set of knowledge and experience necessary for me to be successful in my current endeavors.
If time is a logarithmic spiral like that of a chambered nautilus instead of linear as it appears, then everything in my lifetime has fit perfectly together in a spiral. Some philosophers teach that past, present and future happen simultaneously. Religion often dictates that there is a master plan to our lives. As time passes these ideas become more and more relevant. But, at the time so much of it felt unrelated and random. Now, I can see how elegantly my experiences have shaped my life. Not unlike the beautiful nautilus shell with it’s geometrical spirals and fragile glossy pink shell.
As I wait for the presentation to begin I can remember the intricacies of the fashion show that day; the music, the three dozen models, the mad clothing changes back stage. The people I met and the friends I made are as present as ghosts. Making the day feel exactly like that day with the sun streaming onto the shiny wood floor and the audience waiting for it to begin.
In September, my own clothing line will be featured in San Francisco Fashion Week for New and Emerging Designers making past and present seem separated by only a thin layer.
My daughter walks toward me and sits beside me. I study her profile and the delicate freckles along the bridge of her nose. She turns to me and smiles.
In my mind’s eye I see myself at twenty two walking out through the beautiful Ballroom doors as she walks in.
Love and blessings to all.