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Oh, to be a student again

First visit back to campus awes former magazine editor

By Jean Peck

Jean Peck and her husband Abe

Former UC Magazine editor Jean Peck, MA (A&S) '81, and her husband, Abe, returned to tour campus after a nine-year absence. Photo/Andrew Higley

For the first time in nine years, I found myself back on campus this summer for a close-up look at the university that has been transformed into a showplace.

On a rainy, gloomy day in June, I returned with my husband, Abe, to see the campus changes for myself. My last visit was in May 1997 after my own good-bye party, leaving the university after a long association as a student, adjunct faculty and editor of this same magazine for nearly 12 years.

First, we headed for Tangeman University Center. Good old TUC, that dark, brooding hulk of a building, with the sad piano shoved back into a corner on the first floor and the fast food joint off to the right as you walked in.

But this couldn't be Tangeman. This was a show of light pouring through a soaring atrium, illuminating the spaces below.

I remember that the cavernous hall was always littered with the detritus of campus life: fliers for various political and social meetings, crumpled cheeseburger wrappers, a lost book bag or two, broken umbrellas, even an abandoned bicycle missing its front wheel. Weary students would grab a little shut-eye while sitting in the torn and tattered chairs. I'll never forget a note I found on the floor, dropped by its author or intended recipient: "Jennifer, ask your doctor to up your meds. You're depressing me."

"Are we really in TUC?" I asked incredulously. The huge entry hall was more than just clean; in fact, it glowed with vigor and health. With the university bookstore, movie theater, game room and places to eat, you could live your entire life in TUC and never have to venture outside into the cruel world.

But out into the cruel world we went, only to be awed again. Wide-eyed, we stepped into the Steger Student Life Center, a modern wonder anchored by two metaphors of student life: a state-of-the-art computer center on one end and a two-story Starbucks on the other. You can even grab a sandwich to counter the caffeine. No wonder the Steger Center was buzzing with energy.

Next on the tour was the Campus Recreation Center. I was fighting UC-student envy — where were these amenities when I was a student here? I would have been fit! I would have been fed! Everywhere we turned there was something to see — two pools, a climbing wall, restaurants, classrooms, a convenience store for a quick energy boost. Even though the quarter was over, the place was full of students and staff.

The rain finally lifted, and we walked over to see McMicken Commons, a green space that had actually been conceived and planted during my UC tenure. In the scrim of the rainstorm's afterglow, the commons looked as if it had just had a makeover at the Emerald City, so rich and green and shimmery was the lawn. The whole campus looks cool and lush.

I have been fortunate to work at three city universities (UC, the University of Houston and the University of Southern Maine), but none is as spectacular as the new University of Cincinnati. Viewing the campus on the UC Web site or even in the pages of this wonderful magazine does not do it justice; you have to see it for yourself.

I will always be a Bearcat, but in my next life, I hope to be a UC freshman.

Jean Peck is the marketing director for a law firm in Portland, Maine. She is the author of "At the Fire's Center" and co-author (with Abe) of the forthcoming "Maine's Jewish Heritage." "We live five minutes from the ocean," she says, "15 from the nearest lake, 20 from the closest mountain range. Winter is too long and summer is way too brief, but life is pretty good up north."

The new UC from Campus Green

The new UC from Campus Green