By Bethany Erb
When Michelle Rai reminisces on her time at PUC, her face lights up with nostalgic amusement. She graduated from PUC in 1997 and is now the department chair of communications. Thus, she is armed with a unique perspective on PUC in the past and present. Sitting down with Michelle (and Snowball, her spirited chihuahua-mix rescue dog), I had the privilege of listening to Michelle’s tales of a bygone PUC—in all its ‘90s glory.
Describe the cafeteria scene. Was there a meal that stood out (for good or for worse)? “Everyone used trays—big, giant, cafeteria trays that were very old school. Students would load up their tray with salad, dessert, entree, and beverage and then take it to the register to be weighed. And you know, people always complain about the cafeteria, but now I eat lunch at the cafeteria and it’s significantly better. On Fridays, there was always biscuits and gravy. They still do that! And there was a sandwich guy named Nick.”
What was vespers like? I’ve heard rumors. “Vespers was huggggge. It was date night. During the week, girls would be asked to attend with a guy. Then on Friday night, girls would get all dressed up. Guys would wear suits and ties. And then guys would walk to the lobby of Winning Hall and call girls down using the phone system in the dorm—it was very formal and old-school’ish. But really, a vesper date wasn’t ‘putting a ring on it.’ You could have four vesper dates in a month and it wasn’t frowned upon. Vespers was just a fun way to spend time with someone you were interested in.”
Times have really changed. What other traditions are (becoming) extinct? “On your birthday, you’d get thrown into the fountain. Nobody was exempt—it was just accepted that on your birthday, you’d be getting wet. More seriously, there was a lot of hazing that went on. In the men’s dorm, new guys would get kicked in the nuts, etc. It was unfortunate. Also, Grainger Hall had its own car! People would drive it on campus and blare music.”
Do you have any stories of a (not too) illicit nature? I’m asking for a friend. “Of course! Students used to sneak into hot tubs in the valley. One time, my girlfriends ‘kidnapped me’ while I was working for the Campus Chronicle (in the Grind). They blindfolded me and drove us all down to an inn in St. Helena. We changed into our swimsuits and hung out in the inn’s hot tub for a while. Eventually, the security team kicked us out, but we took a picture with them. They were cool. But it wasn’t uncommon for students—nearly every weekend—to go ‘hot-tubbing’ in St. Helena and the Napa Valley. One time, we [my girlfriends and I] were even kicked out of Harvest Inn! But I stayed there after my wedding, so I made up for it, right?”
I’m adding that to my bucket list.
“Ha. I’m sure it’s different now. Back then, the security was minimal. There were not as many security cameras or supervised fences like there are now. At the inns, a (pretty relaxed) security team was usually the only concern. It would be difficult, I imagine, to attempt that in this age.”
PUC in the ‘90s. What was the zeitgeist? “Honestly, it was very…alive. There was a palpable energy and individuality to the campus. Enrollment was up, and a feeling of campus unity was strong. Rooms were decorated very funkily. People were individuals. Does that make sense? Very unique and comfortable with diversity of thought and not just skin. Collegiate culture was very safe—date-rape drugs were just coming onto the market, so engaging wasn’t so scary. It was easy to just enjoy life and outings with friends. PUC was a beautiful place to be. It was special.”
Cheryl Daley is no stranger to PUC. Since graduating from PUC in 1963, with a B.A. in Fine Arts, she left to work as a graphic designer and scientific illustrator. Along the way, she ran her own graphic design business, The Fine Line. In 2003, Cheryl Daley returned to PUC to teach art and co-direct the Rasmussen Art Gallery. Her memories of PUC in the ‘60s are rich and tinged with a wistful fondness for the “golden days.”
During your undergraduate years, how did PUC students approach campus life? “We had better pranks than now. Since it was the sixties, we didn’t have social media. We were creative with our time. Some guys in Grainger Hall would roll a bowling ball down the third-floor hall. When the RA’s would come to investigate, the guys would drop the ball out of a window into a camouflaged box in the bushes. The RA’s could never figure out how the ball disappeared so fast. Another time, some guys dismantled a car and reassembled it in a dorm room. And during an event in Irwin Hall, someone dropped live mice strapped into parachutes into the auditorium.”
Let me guess. All hell broke loose?
“Just about. It was a legendary prank. I know who did it, but I’m not telling.”
That’s wild. You just don’t hear about that nowadays. “No, you don’t. I really think the social media craze has changed PUC’s campus spirit. Students used to favor communal activities—corn roasts in the woods, for example. I think we took advantage of the beautiful, rural environment more. We were always outside hiking, walking, running, or just making time to sit around a fire and hang out. It was really special.”
What were PUC’s vespers like in the sixties? “Hmm…we had more required worships. Morning worship was required, believe it or not. Chapel was on alternate weekdays. Vespers was a huge deal, though. Students, faculty, and even community members would attend.”
Was vespers the place to “meet the one?” “Not really. We were not allowed to have dates, and I believe there was assigned seating. You could get reassigned, but you had to be sure it was someone worth getting reassigned for. If you and your boyfriend/girlfriend broke up during the quarter, it would be so awkward to keep sitting next to them!”
PUC students were engaged with those national discussions? “Very much engaged, yes. The Kennedy presidency, Martin Luther King Jr.’s speeches, and gender/racial discussions all provided plenty of ideas and concepts to discuss and interact with. The Campus Chronicle was actually part of leading that discussion. The publications were controversial and pushed the envelope. The students weren’t afraid to get in trouble. They were just doing their best to make a difference.”
PUC’s faculty were involved in this discussion, right? “Absolutely. PUC had a group of professors who had gone to ivy-league universities and were really encouraging rigorous academic excellence amongst their students. It was an open climate. Students were pushed to keep ‘opening the envelope’ through class discussions, etc.”
If you could share one thing with PUC students now, what would you say? “PUC is really special. Don’t hesitate to invest in close friendships—the friends you make in college will last a lifetime. Also, forming personal relationships with faculty is a really important part of thriving in college. And get outdoors! PUC’s trails are waiting to be explored. If you ‘escape’ from social media, you’ll find that our beautiful environment has a lot to offer.”