The Big 10 with Jeff D'Alessio, Aug. 3, 2014

The Big 10 with Jeff D'Alessio, Aug. 3, 2014

With the 6,950 members of the Class of 2018 reporting to campus soon, we asked 10 familiar faces from yesteryear: Which part of freshman life at the University of Illinois threw you for the biggest loop?



Actor, NBC’s Parks & Recreation

“I had such a rural, smalltown upbringing that, upon arriving in Champaign-Urbana, I was terrified of the mass transit system, specifically the city buses. They were so big-city. After a couple months of blister-ridden, long-distance walking, I finally girded myself and dared to board the bus heading north on Lincoln Ave. Here follows my conversation with the driver, as I clumsily slotted coins into the meter by his side:

Me: Hello! So, this bus just keeps going up Lincoln?

Driver: Yup. Have a seat.

Me: So, no turns? You just keep going on Lincoln?

Driver: Where you wanna go?

Me: Bradley?

Driver: Ok, sit down. I’ll tell you when we there.

Me: (sitting) You promise?

Driver: Promise. Take it easy.

Me: Thank you. It’s my first time.

Driver: No (expletive).

I’m happy to report that I have since fully mastered the city bus, the subway, the elevated train and the occasional funicular, although I still prefer the slow pace of perambulation, so that I can see how the neighbors’ gardens are faring and have a chat with my peers, the squirrels. Nonetheless, I will always be grateful to the C-U MTD for making my first time so gentle. It went by a lot faster than I’d expected, but it only hurt for a second.”



Designed robots in 

Transformers 2, Iron Man 3

“Nude figure drawing took the most getting used to for me. There was one old guy in particular that would always point his privates in my direction, no matter where I moved in the room. He was creepy.

“Once, before class, I was chatting with a girl who was in my drawing class the previous semester. I assumed she was joining our class to make up for missing hers. I turned to set up my stuff and when I turned back she was naked walking up to the platform. It was odd, to say the least. I don’t think we ever spoke again after that day.”



Former Secretary of Labor

“I loved everything about the U of I as a freshman. But I have mixed dominance, which basically means I cannot tell left from right — some said later that was true politically, too — so I spent a great deal of my freshman year lost and unable to find my way. I always had to take the same route or go with someone. The quad became my lodestone, and getting to the stadium was a real hassle. But eventually, I made the paths mine.”



Author, columnist,

Deadspin founder

“For the first time in my life, if I didn’t go to class, if I stayed in bed, if I ate too much Garcia’s, nobody cared. With college comes insight and discovery, but also with it comes one of the most valuable life lessons of all: You are not a special snowflake. The world does not revolve around you. You’re on your own. Walking through campus, watching laserdiscs at the undergrad, riding around on the Orchard Downs bus ... nobody knows you and nothing you do matters. You have to figure out how to change that on your own, or it never will. 

“I learned a lot from college, but that was the most important one: You write your own story.”



Retired Major General

U.S. Air Force

“As the first and only person in my family to go on to college, I had no idea what to expect. My mom even went so far as to ask my girlfriend at the time if she thought I’d make it. My mom then answered her own question, saying, ‘I don’t think so.’ None of us knew anything about the University of Illinois and the doors it and the Air Force would open for me. 

“Today, after 35 years in the U.S. Air Force, a retired 2-star general and a test pilot who flew over 47 different aircraft, I guess I showed my mom I could make it in the big time.”



Mystery novelist

“My roommate and I spent our first semester living in an eight-by-ten foot dorm room at Clark Hall in Champaign. In its infinite wisdom, the housing department had crammed a bunk bed and two desks into a room designed for one person. Back then, students were measured not by their grade point averages, but by the size of their stereo speakers. Our neighbors had rented a pickup truck to move their massive boomers into the dorm. The building shook for months as we were entertained by the dulcet tones of Kansas and Journey into the wee hours.

“In 1976, the drinking age in Champaign was 19, but the drinking age in Urbana was 18. As a result, we freshmen made the weekly pilgrimage to the Thunderbird and Treno’s in Urbana to consume copious amounts of Old Style, Old Milwaukee and Pabst Blue Ribbon on Friday and Saturday nights. It was great fun staggering back to Champaign late at night in the dead of winter.”



White House Chief of Staff

under George H.W. Bush

“When my mother dropped me off the week before school started so I could participate in fraternity rush, I was terrified. I’d never been to Champaign and as we pulled up she said. ‘There is your dorm, go and find your room and I will see you in November.’ Then she drove off. My mother was a widow and single parent and wanted to make sure that I learned how to take care of myself and become my own person. Fifty-five years later, I consider my college experience to be the biggest life-changing experience in my life.”



Neurology Chair, Boston’s

Beth Israel Medical Center

“I moved to Champaign-Urbana from the Chicago north suburbs, where I’d grown up. And the hardest thing to get used to was the dearth of Chicago style pan pizza. But that fall, Papa Del’s opened its doors, and my friends and I were frequent diners there. Then, shortly after that, Garcia’s opened, and Champaign-Urbana was firmly on the pizza map.”




“The first thing that comes to mind is that I learned very early to separate colors from whites when washing clothes. I had a batch of pink underwear as a constant reminder.”



Financial guru

“What took most getting used to for me were the dorm bathrooms and showers in the Florida Avenue Residences. My room was 222, not far from the bathroom. For some reason, I got attached to always going into the same toilet and shower stall. They were mine, even though no one knew that but me. The problem was, when I went in, if there was someone else in my stall, I would not know what to do. I ended up just waiting until they finished, even though there were other empty toilets and or shower stalls I could have used. 

“To avoid this from happening, I’d always get up early to be the first in there to use it. When I went back in 2009, I stopped by the FAR dorm to see my stall. Before I left, I used it one last time. Still felt that pride of ownership.”



Former Secret Service agent, shot during 1981 assassination attempt of Ronald Reagan

“I grew up on the south side of Chicago and went to grammar school and high school there. Never traveled much out of the city. My first roommate was from Orland Park, Ill., which I had never even heard of as at that time as it was a distant suburb. Might as well have been Mars from what I knew of it.

“Many years, later I became the chief of police in Orland Park after retiring from the Secret Service. How ironic.”



NBA, NFL player agent

“Having never really been on a farm before college, the heat of August and September — combined with the smell of the South farms and trying to sleep in a non-air conditioned room with that heat and smell — was something I will never forget.”


Tiger Woods’ agent

“Flat tire. Second week on campus. I was no good and changing tires and had to figure it out.”



CEO, CropLife America

“My most vivid memory of fall 1970 is captured in one word: scale. Even though I’d spent time on campus as a high school student — attending state FFA conventions and other youth conferences and being through formal spring fraternity rush — being on campus with a class schedule was daunting from a simply geographic perspective. What was the coping mechanism? Largely, friendly people and the fact that the ag campus and my fraternity homes were really more scale-alike to my small town high school experience back in Princeton, Ill. That, coupled with a very healthy fear of

failure got me to a cap and gown — and a fabulous new wife, who’s still happily married to me — four years later.”



Two-time Pro Bowl left tackle

“I’m quite sure this wasn’t the first time someone mentioned South Farms and the wicked aroma it produced.

“Friday’s steak and potato at The Ribeye cannot go without mention, either. Memories of an eager freshman!”


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