It was the fall semester of 1998 when I wandered into Saint Xavier University in a desperate search for my future. The world was completely different–few owned a cell phone, the Internet was in its infancy, and people actually interacted face to face. It was a world before Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Wikipedia, Amazon, Google and Twitter. President Bill Clinton awaited impeachment after “Not having sexual relations” with Monica Lewinsky, Jesse “The Body” Ventura stunned the country with a huge upset win for the Minnesota governorship, and John Glenn blasted off from Cape Canaveral as the oldest man ever to reach space.
We didn’t worry about terrorism or mass shootings. The idea of imminent catastrophic events like 9-11, Columbine or Sandy-Hook never crossed our minds. We lived in relative peace, harmony and economic prosperity. Things seemed so much…simpler. And of course, SXU was far different than today.
That fall I moved into Regina Hall, one of only two choices of dormitories. Air conditioners were banned and we slept on old spring mattresses; the kind you may find inside an asylum or army barrack. A leisurely walk from Regina Hall to Warde’s main entrance was about exciting as a trip to Delaware. I know, what’s in Delaware?
Soccer players trotted around the empty grass field where McCarthy, Morris, O’Brien and Rubloff resident halls would later occupy. Basketball players practiced and hosted their games in the cramped sardine can of a home court; but optimistically awaited the opening of the new convocation-athletic facility as construction workers broke ground that in an old parking lot on the southwest side of campus. The last place SXU football team practiced on a slab of land retrofitted with white paint (to indicate yardage) – and they shared it with the soccer team. More empty voids surrounded the main building as we waited for the vision and realization of the McDonough Chapel, Career Services/Counseling Center and larger parking lots.
Inside the main building, students studied in old-fashioned leather chairs and snuck in naps on red sofas inside the Bishop Quarter Room. To find research material, we rummaged through old card catalogs housed in ancient oak storage cabinets and sat uncomfortably on hardwood chairs positioned around intimidating tables in the very outdated SXU library. We typed away on Internet free, boxy computers as we created our essays or research papers. If really lucky, an amazing discovery of a fast-paced computer with a dial-up Internet connection brightened up our research experience. Below the library, a small studio (near the present-day media lab) served the art students while graphic designers crammed into a small adjacent lab with bubble-looking G3 IMACs. On the 3rd floor, communications majors created videos using a massive 1970s film editing machine retro-fitted with a VHS cassette recorder.
Down the hall, fiery professor Dr. Peter Kirstein delivered passionate history lectures, Dr. Paul Hazard lectured philosophy and Eugenia McAvoy taught the virtues of public speaking. On the 2nd floor, outside the gym, worshipers prayed in a small chapel that once served as a classroom. As far as off campus sites go-forget about it. Back then, none of it existed… well except for Gilhooley’s, which ironically SXU later purchased.
Upon reflection, back in 1998, I was completely lost- as any needle in a stack of hay. In many ways, I mirrored SXU; full of amazing potential patiently waiting for a spectacular resurgence. Like myself, I never imagined the SXU of the future to appear this dynamic, vibrant, and enthusiastic. We sat dormant with high hopes for a jaw-dropping educational revolution.
Be sure to check out part two of my article “SXU: Then and Now…”