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In the 39th installment of our yearlong series commemorating the UI's 150th birthday, we asked 10 grads who've gone on to big things to tell us about the Campustown places and spaces that made the most indelible impressions on them.


Associate operator, ESPN

"What happened at the FAR Dining Hall on Thursday nights was not just a usual dinner but a time for the African-American community to come together and have a place that they could call home.

"From the soul food cuisine, to the hip-hop music, to the little dance floor where everyone gathered to do the Illini Slide, it was the one evening we all looked forward to because you knew that even if you hadn't seen someone in the past few days, you'd see them at SOUL. Even if a student no longer lived in the dorms, and no longer had a meal plan, they would find a way to get in and be about this moment.

"It's a moment that's for the culture. One that made me feel like my identity mattered. That I was a part of something that was bigger than me."

KAI CHEN ('04)

Senior staff software engineer, Google

"Back in the days when I was a hungry graduate student, I often went to a food truck parked on South Wright Street near the Grainger Library for some fast and cheap food — sometimes with my fellow office mates, who were equally hungry and broke.

"We were quite excited when some big company like Microsoft came to give a talk in DCL, the main building of the computer science department at the time — not because of their talks, but because of the gigantic amount of pizzas they brought."



Senior VP/legal, AMC Networks

"Some of my fondest memories are from Green Street — particularly Murphy's Pub. I think it's probably the first place where I used a fake ID. I was so nervous.

"My friends and I had many, many nights there talking about school, life at campus, music we loved, and likely the musicians we were in love with. I remember going there the night that I was crowned homecoming queen — I had led a silent protest with my king, Dorian Warren, by wearing a T-shirt with an empty face of a Native American chief that read 'Racial Stereotypes Dehumanize.'

"No matter which side of the debate you were on, we caused quite a stir. I remember sitting at Murphy's that night like a fly on the wall listening in on all the conversations happening around me about what happened that afternoon. No one knew it was me."



Compliance director, Rutgers Athletics

"I have so many memories of Hopkins 202. I hope the Illini band is still scaring the heck out of freshmen by blasting the Alma Mater first thing in the morning in the middle of the Six Pack. It's only fair.

"Court 6 at Atkins Tennis Center is where I had the biggest win of my career, taking down Vanderbilt in 2009 at the NCAAs for our team's first top 20 win. And Irwin Academic Center — aka the athlete study hall — is where I first met some of my greatest friends who have remained so 10 years later.

"There are several places that still give me pseudo-PTSD when I think about some of our team workouts — the Memorial Stadium stairs, the Armory track, the outdoor track and Huff Hall. It must have taken two or three years after I graduated to stop waking up in a panic thinking I was late for conditioning."


Senior director/digital, Universal Music

"The parties we had at 808 W. California in Urbana were unforgettable. This house had a long streak of years where the police turned a blind eye, and my two years were no different.

"We had five bands play in just one evening, and we probably made more money that night than I made at my first job. True entrepreneurial spirit in the making."


Lead creative strategist, Google of Northern Europe

"During my freshman and sophomore year I got to live in what was back then an experimental dorm community in Saunders Hall called Global Crossroads.

"As a freshman in 2001, my Anglophile dreams were answered — I'd been assigned a British roommate named Emma. My best memories are of us getting ready to go out in our tiny dorm room, Emma introducing me to 2-step garage and the wonders of GHD hair straighteners. Although I now live in Amsterdam and she in Hong Kong, we still keep in touch.

"I'm so happy to see Global Crossroads still exists. The program is for those interested in living with students from all over the world, offering events and seminars on international and multicultural affairs — and unofficial intros to British dance music."


Host/writer/producer created 'RSVP Abroad,' travel show on BBC

"I stayed in Champaign one summer with three friends in the apartments behind Station. In what I recall as a near-nightly routine, we would walk to a nearby liquor store on Green; pick up a handle of Ron Diaz rum, the poor man's Captain Morgan, and a 2-liter of Diet Coke; return to our apartment; and pregame with pretzels and cream cheese.

"Then around 10 p.m., we'd mosey down to the now-defunct Station Bar courtyard and drink vodka/Red Bulls in the humid summer night air.

"It was summer, drinks were $1 and class started at noon the next day. Life. Was. Good."



Commander, Los Angeles Police Department (retired)

"During my early years at the U of I, I lived at Bromley Hall and was ultimately a resident adviser there. There was a nice mezzanine with a big study hall and a Garcia's Pizza at the end of the hall. Besides the yummy pizza, I used to go in all the time and play pinball. I loved El Dorado.

"One time, during summer school, Garcia's was empty with one manager there and I was in playing pinball. Suddenly, a summer camp with 30-40 kids came in and Char, who was behind the counter, was overwhelmed. I did not work there, but asked if she wanted some help and she put me to work making pizzas. We made it through the night with no problems.

"After the Flying Tomato Brothers found out what I did, Ralph Senn offered me a job and I worked for Garcia's, at all their restaurants, through undergrad and graduate school.

"I now live in California and you can't get great pizza out here."


President, Brooklyn Academy of Music

"I remember Espresso Royal, next to the music department, where as a newly arrived graduate student from the UK, I first heard the phrase 'double decaf cap to go' and learned that ordering coffee was a serious business.

"I remember Smith Memorial Hall, where I first saw my now-husband of almost 25 years play the piano for my roommate.

"And, of course, Krannert Center, which boasts some of the finest acoustics in the country."


Director of innovation, PayPal

"I remember watching club hockey games on Saturday night. My voice would be hoarse by the end of the game after chanting 'it's all your fault' — among other less family-friendly phrases — to the opposing goalie for three periods."