It was a joy being at UCSD again, if only for a few hours. That the place had changed radically – particularly the physical plant – over the 32 years since I left was hardly a surprise. The campus was barely older than I was when I arrived as an eighteen year old freshman in the fall of 1982. We were still using temporary buildings and remnants of USMC Camp Matthews for everything from administrators offices to the registrar, the bookstore, and the tree-girt home of the UCSD Guardian. A clutch of modern buildings notwithstanding, it still felt like we were an ersatz campus.
The addition of scores of new buildings, legions of additional students, and a brace of new graduate and professional schools in the decades since has not stomped out the fundamental culture. Rejecting many of the traditional core social activities of American university life (big sports, big greeks, ROTC, etc) has made activities much more student-focused and student-serving and thus more diverse and intimate. The Oxbridge-inspired system of colleges that make up the university – now six – have kept the small-school feeling on a campus that now educates 35,000 students.
Walking the pathways brought back a flood of memories, one of which was that in my heart of hearts, I had not really wanted to leave. I went, finally, because I wanted to major in international relations, follow a girl, and find a place with a somewhat more traditional college feel. The day I crammed my possessions into my hatchback and headed north, I refused to look back for a last glimpse. By the time I passed San Elijo Lagoon, I was weeping.
I have not regretted since then my transfer to UC Davis: it was evident within days of my arrival that Davis was a much better fit for me, and evidence has and continues to mount that I made the perfect move, regardless of my motives and feelings at the time.
But a walk through the eucalyptus groves on a La Jolla bluff above the Pacific closed and open loop in my heart. I am also an alumnus, and UCSD will always be a part of me, one of a small but going coterie of “kind mothers.”