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4200 FIFTH AVENUE




I came to the University of Pittsburgh the first time in a haze. It was the fall of 1972, my third year of college. My father had died suddenly at the beginning of the summer--much too young, in the exuberance of his own life, and in the fledging of the lives of his six children who stretched from 22 years of age down to six. For myself, I had been teetering on the cusp of adulthood. That summer I made what was probably my first fully independent adult decision. I decided to stay home and transfer to Pitt.

And Pitt came through for me.

In the whirlwind of a month, I applied, was accepted, and found myself scheduled up for a full round of classes. Back then, transfer students were shepherded into the College of General Studies for 18 credits worth of night classes before making passage into CAS. So for my first year here, my perception of the University was one of twilight--the real twilight of evening falling as I entered the Cathedral for my classes. And the Cathedral's own interior twilight, the diffuse Gothic lighting of the Commons Room that mirrored my own dimmed and quiet sense of my life right then.

But my second and final year was entirely different.

The daytime world of the University was boisterous, cacophonous, teeming. There were crowds everywhere, it seemed--pressing elbow to elbow in the auditorium-sized classes, prowling the stacks of the library, circling like buzzards for parking. Making a transfer halfway through college is an inherently loaded proposition. Right about when you get the hang of it, it's time to leave. College for me that year was a little like driving in traffic. I tried to fit into the flow. But what I was focused on was getting out.

I've come to Pitt many times and in many ways since. I've come as a member of the Pittsburgh community to take classes when I thought I might pursue a career in business. I've come as a graduate student and teaching fellow to the Department of English. And I've come to Pitt as a young writer for this magazine, and later its editor.

Each time I returned, the University looked different to me--easier to navigate, negotiate, and know, percolating with exciting people and ideas.

To this change in perspective, I had attributed my own maturing--until I read Tommy Ehrbar's story, "The Day the University Changed" (page 14).

Tommy writes about the new era that began in 1966 when Pitt entered into a partnership with the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and became a state-related institution.

The metamorphosis that followed in the wake of this agreement meant that by the time I arrived on campus, the University was struggling to keep up with the sudden influx of students. It was like an adolescent who grows six inches overnight. You can see the world from a whole new vantage point. But your sleeves and pants legs are too short. Rarely do we see ourselves as living in history. Tommy's story has offered me, personally, a way to reexamine an experience I would have called private and local.

I hope that Tommy's recounting will reinvigorate an understanding and appreciation of this University for many of you as well.


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