The Gonzaga Experience
The Gonzaga Experience
Originally published in Gonzaga Quarterly, Spring 2007Written by Marny LombardPhotos by Amy Sinisterra
The Gonzaga Experience. This phrase is heard a lot on campus, but what exactly does it mean?
A great education in the Ignatian tradition. Teaching men and women to serve others. Professors who illuminate and befriend. Service learning, the arts and athletics, clubs, residence life, studies in Florence - all of these components round out the Gonzaga experience. But there's more.
You can't spend much time at Gonzaga without being struck by students' expressions of joy. Full-throated delight in discovering the riches of campus life. The exhilaration of tumbling into a friendship that enriches a year - or redirects a student's life.
Joy is not often debated in departmental meetings, nor is it listed in any syllabus. But we all know the happy delirium that touches the spring of our lives. It's a vital element of the Gonzaga Experience. Read on. We've invited a collection of students and young alumni to share slices of their Gonzaga Experience with you.
Welch Hall Girls
First up are six friends from Welch Hall. Meredith Florine is the organized one. Alex Williams' friends say she is peaceful and calm. Adora Diaz is the artist, the hair and makeup queen, who one afternoon found in conversation with Alex the close connection that she needed to thrive. Megan Atkins is admired for her cheerful personality and guileless smile. Julia Esser, who resisted her mother's urging to apply to Gonzaga, is now the freshman class president. Lindsay Dick joined the group last, when a Halloween errand sent her across the hall.
These young women arrived on campus last fall in the usual stew of anxiety and anticipation. Six months later, they are roommates and soul mates, close friends and compatriots. They've helped each other adjust to the academic pace and established rooming plans for next year. A tight-knit core on a floor of freshmen girls they describe as already caring, they admire each other's strengths and finish each other's thoughts. They discuss mistakes they've made and offer solutions to try next time.
"To be able to talk with each other about life and growing up is amazing," said Megan. "It's rough sometimes, but there's a beauty in the roughness."
Other times, they just have fun.
"One weekend night we were all hanging out in Meredith and Alex's room singing along to the Little Mermaid, when we noticed that it was snowing," Lindsay said. "We threw on our gear, grabbed a camera and ran out to join over 50 students in a snowball fight. We laughed, ran, made snow angels and threw snowballs like girls."
Julia is from Genesee, Idaho, a town so tiny its population is smaller than Gonzaga's freshman class. Last fall, Julia took Megan, Alex and Meredith home for a weekend.
"One afternoon, I taught them how to ride our four-wheeler. I remember riding over the hill, with Alex and Meredith watching, holding tight to Megan as she slowly gained confidence, and thinking, 'Wow, how lucky am I to have found friends who will come here and share a part of my life - and be so excited about it?'"
Russell Yost ('03)
One cold December evening, we were in the midst of final exams. Christmas vacation seemed nearly unreachable, and the pile of notes to read for the evening insurmountable. After a warm meal of soup, pizza and as much caffeine as we could stand, I made the trek back to my dorm with a small group of friends through the newly fallen snow.
Trying to keep from falling on the sidewalk, we crept at a snail's pace, grabbing and gripping each other's coats. Although only a few blocks to go, plenty of opportunities arose to take an embarrassing nose dive. The cobblestone sidewalks had turned from picturesque paths to polar ice caps during our dinner.
The conversation, or rather complaining, centered on our looming exams. Suddenly, amidst one of my rants, one of my friends pelted me in the face with a solid ice snowball. I stood in shock as the others awaited my reaction. Quietly and slowly I picked up a handful of snow and burst toward him to smear his smug face. The fight erupted from there with all six of us grabbing handfuls of snow and attacking with reckless abandon. The complaining had turned to laughter as we continued home, faces cold but smiling, to take on the world of studying.
Eleri Oley Kerian ('06)
The 10 p.m. daily Mass in the University Chapel became central to my spiritual life early in my freshman year: friendship with other Catholic students who also celebrated their Roman Catholic faith, strong bonds with Jesuits who provided opportunities for confession and friendship, fellowship after Mass often culminating in late-night breakfast at the COG.
However, the most profound experience was meeting James, my husband ('05), through these nightly gatherings for worship. We began dating February of my freshman year and continued to keep the sacraments central to our relationship, by attending Mass and attending the all-night Friday Eucharistic Adoration for the troops in Iraq while my brother was deployed.
James proposed to me in the University Chapel in February 2005. Surrounded by our Gonzaga friends, we were married there in June 2006. This spring, we are delighted to be expecting a baby girl and look forward to showing her the University Chapel, which was so instrumental in creating her family.
Mary Mendenhall ('06)
I arrived as a freshman at Gonzaga like an eager young actor approaching Hollywood - so many things to see and do. As a young Catholic writer and aspiring graphic designer, I found my way to Student Publications and the Gonzaga Bulletin. Eager to start work, I took my first story assignment, covering the re-opening of the Student Chapel.
I knew nothing about the Chapel - not its history in the Ad Building, not its "earthy" phase of burlap bags on the ceiling or orange windows. So I interviewed Fr. Bill Watson, S.J., the driving force in the Chapel's restoration. He told me of the refinished, pressed tin ceiling, the restored, wood floor, and stained glass windows from the East Coast. As I nodded benignly, not really impressed, he stopped to say, "Mary, have you even gone into the Chapel?" A bit embarrassed at my lack of preparation, I said "No."
"Go down there right now," he said, with a knowing smile. "You need to see it." So, I did. I wasn't impressed. The outside doors weren't attached. Paint-stained sheets hung like ghosts. Not expecting much, I pushed past the sheets and walked in.
The gleaming, richly covered space staggered me. Tapestries of gold and green framed a tabernacle. To either side, life-size stained glass windows shone with martyrs and saints. And almost in the background, yet ever present, the crucified Christ, the Redeemer of the world.
I've sat in that chapel countless times, in nightly Masses, rosaries and afternoons in Adoration. I cried there with my best friend before she left for Florence. I have seen friends married there, learned of their engagements and talked with some of the best priests I've ever known.
That first moment has stayed with me. Before I walked in, Gonzaga was just my new school. When I walked out, the chapel was my new home.
Joe Miller ('07)
Running is the source of my best memories. In four years on Gonzaga's cross-country team, I have run more than 13,000 miles, worn out 40 pairs of shoes and spent nearly 1,600 hours running. I met my girlfriend, made lifelong relationships and had every type of conversation imaginable - all while running.
We have counseled, confided in and teased each other. We've passed down traditions, taught the 'new guys' about GUXC and raced together, all with a common goal. We have lived out our lives on the Spokane streets and 'died' hundreds of times in workouts - only to come back stronger. We have grown up "out there."
When I graduate and leave Spokane this May, part of me will be left here on the roads and trails, along with all the little bits of rubber that have worn off my shoes. Running cross country at Gonzaga hasn't defined me, but it has taught me who I am.
Nick Questad ('06)
Four years at any university will get you a degree. Four years at Gonzaga will get you a degree and a lifelong membership to a community no matter where you are in the world. I had tremendous experiences at Gonzaga. One memory comes from the other side of the world.
Days after graduation, I embarked on a two-month trip through Europe with a few friends. A month into our trip, we arrived in Florence homesick, tired and our clothes in dire need of a wash. The hostel where we had reservations was not even in Florence. Nowhere to sleep! We located the Gonzaga-in-Florence campus and some students and professors in the summer program. They welcomed us, found a room at the student hotels and gave us breakfast and lunch.
That night we went in search of a restaurant, and spotted a large Gonzaga flag in the window of a small bar called The Public House. The place was filled with GU students and the walls covered with pictures of our friends.
That moment I realized that forever I will be part of a community that will instantly befriend each other because we are all proud to be Zags. After two months of incredible sightseeing, my most memorable experience was the compassion I received from the Gonzaga community.
Claire Davis ('06)
For the 2005 Fall Family Weekend, five of my friends and I were parentless. So together we improvised our own quirky family, the "Giln-ottis." Included were the amazing apple-pie-making Mom, Naomi Gilna; energetic, over-protective Dad, Tyler Orizotti; crazy Aunt Katie (Orizotti), little cousin Claire Davis (me), spunky cousin Jessie (Hallerman), and tall cousin Helen Connolly. And, yes, even the family dog, Mega-ruff, or Megan Hurley.
For a family outing, we hopped into the Giln-otti Jeep and headed to Green Bluff. Mom sat up front with Dad, but the seat-heating units in the Jeep were malfunctioning and chaos ensued. Mega-ruff wouldn't stop barking, the cousins had to go to the bathroom, Mom's buns were burning and Dad just kept laughing.
Definitely one of my favorite GU memories.
David Uhl ('05)
Photo by Julie Bourbon, National Jesuit News
"The bird can't go on an airplane or the air pressure will kill it," my friend Veronika said. "So Crystal and I are going to drive it to LA this weekend? Want to come?" How could I resist a road trip like this?
We left after class on Friday and drove through the night, me in back, keeping the bird company. I took over at about 3 a.m. in southern Oregon and somehow safely got us to Sacramento. Finally in LA, what do we do? Watch a movie about going on a road trip. After a short nap, we went out for a night in Hollywood. The next morning, we headed back north. As if that weren't adventure enough, we took the route through Klamath Falls and Bend instead of following I-5...and we still made it back to campus, without missing a class.
Greena George ('07)
My social life as a Gonzaga freshman began at the Unity House Barbecue. When I walked into the crowd of students, I knew no one. Within the hour, I had made friends for life.
Because we shared so much through our Indian heritage, I gravitated to upperclassmen Rajiv and Pradeep Hatcher. I was enthralled to meet the only Malayali family in Spokane. In the following weeks, they would help me overcome much of my homesickness.
I met two other friends that same day: Karina Kunder, a senior majoring in physical therapy, who is a German-American born in Africa and raised in Papua, New Guinea, and Yumiko Sushitani, a Japanese exchange student.
We three met every Sunday at the COG to share breakfast and converse about the most curious and exciting things in life. We ice skated at the Pavilion, went to dance clubs in below-freezing weather, played catch in the Dussault Apartments and snowboard at Schweitzer. It was one of my best years ever, despite knowing that my dearest friends were leaving in May. And lucky me - they have made several visits back to Gonzaga since then. When I graduate this May, it will be my turn to visit them.
Leah Rourke ('04)
Near the end of spring semester of my freshman year, I was high on life. The winter chill had finally lifted, and the flower beds were full of daffodils. What's not to love about spring time on a college campus? I had a great first year marked with good friends, great experiences, interesting classes and an insatiable appetite to experience Gonzaga. I was having so much fun, I didn't want the year to end.
One afternoon during dead week, I was walking to the Foley Library to study before dinner. En route, I passed a couple upperclassmen I knew by sight. They asked if I had time to play 3-on-3 soccer with them. Of course. I love to play soccer. Our small field was no more than 30 yards long and 15 yards wide, with goals marked by our book bags and shoes. We played in our bare feet for two hours in the warm spring sun...
Those two hours were competitive and intense, yet playful and while; bonding with people I hardly knew and yet we shared a kinship. A love for the game and a love for Gonzaga.
It took my feet a week or so to heal, but it was worth it. I took a risk playing without shoes, playing with people I hardly knew and playing while I should have been studying. But that risk at the end of my freshman year encouraged me to live boldly and take advantage of every moment and opportunity.
Tell us about your 'Gonzaga Experience'
The Gonzaga Experience. It means something different to every alumna and alumnus. While some folks say their Gonzaga Experience was responsible for who they have become today, others say it was flat-out the best time of their life. Still, there is a common thread that runs through all of these stories, a thread filled with inspiration, insight, hilarity and more. We would like you to share your favorite Gonzaga Experience with us and we will share your memories with the rest of the Gonzaga family. Please send your best stories defining what the Gonzaga Experience has meant to you, along with photos marking your time here and/or a current photo, to Peter Tormey, associate director of public relations, at firstname.lastname@example.org, who is creating a Web page to post your best Gonzaga Experience.