Um, Yah, Yah!

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April 29th, 2012

Not only did our daughter Skye fall in love with St. Olaf, but they fell for her too. photo by Rodney CurtisOur dear, darling daughter has finally made her collegiate decision, but it was not without fits and starts. We visited colleges from sea to shining sea over the past few years. Who knew she’d […]

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Not only did our daughter Skye fall in love with St. Olaf, but they fell for her too. photo by Rodney CurtisOur dear, darling daughter has finally made her collegiate decision, but it was not without fits and starts. We visited colleges from sea to shining sea over the past few years. Who knew she’d end up on top of a remote hill, in the middle of rural Minnesota?

Don’t feel bad if you’ve never heard of St. Olaf. Most of her friends haven’t either. They say, “Skye? …. Saint? We never would’ve thought you’d attend a school whose first name is Saint.”

It’s not like our daughter’s a rampant sinner or diametrically opposed to anything religious. On the contrary, she’s very spiritual. It’s just people make certain assumptions about things based on names alone. For instance, you wouldn’t expect Conservatives to be conservationists.

During our college visits, we’ve seen a lot of campuses and taken a whole bunch of tours. No Admissions Department was as incredible as the one at St. Olaf. They’re known for courting the whole family; I realized this as I munched on duck empanadas at the president’s shindig for prospective parents.

Another dad I met there mentioned this was his fifth event so far. He told the story of being wined and dined with other Chicago-area parents at a lavish affair on the Magnificent Mile. They then all strolled down the street to an enormous cathedral and were ushered into the front pews of a standing-room-only performance of the St. Olaf choir. He contrasted that with a meeting he had at another college where a harried Admissions officer met him at a back table of a crowded Panera and he had to pay for his own coffee.

As other colleges showed varying degrees of interest in our daughter, St. Olaf phoned and wrote and offered scholarships. They even revised their awards upward after hearing about our financial concerns. In separate meetings on campus, everybody seemed to know Skye already. Kathy Ruby, the Financial Aid guru laughed and quoted one of our daughter’s notes verbatim. And Brian Burgemeister (yes, his name is one letter shy of that guy in Santa Claus Is Coming To Town) deserves a medallion for dealing with Marci and I.

Skye loves them and they love Skye. There’s nothing more important.

It’s a very incongruous college. The tiny town of Northfield, Minnesota hosts two incredible schools of higher learning. On opposing hills, flanking their main drag, Carleton College sits to the East and St. Olaf to the West. Thus, Northfield’s motto, emblazoned on their official town signs is “Cows, Colleges, and Contentment.

Any small town, though, that has a great Indian restaurant, has my vote. Cows, Colleges, and Curry for me. Not to mention Malt-O-Meal, but I’ll get to that.

A student named Bjorn (what else would you expect at a college named after a Norwegian King?) told us if you don’t like reading a lot, then discussing what you’ve read, don’t come to St. Olaf. Skye was hooked. She immediately applied for and was accepted into their Great Conversations course, which meets for two years. Basically, you live with a bunch of other students who love to read, read, read then talk about what they’ve just read, read, read.

Voted amongst the top ten nationwide for college cuisine (see duck empanadas above) I know my kid’s going to eat well during those cold Minnesota winters. I realize I’m sounding like a brochure for the school; can you tell I’m trying to sell myself on her being so far away?

I did my research though. I was worried about a lot of different things. Some rational (is it really a dry campus in the middle of a cornfield?), others totally irrational (yes, in fact they keep a thick file on ghost sightings in the cool, fun olde tyme buildings). So in my quest to ease “your” minds about the college in the middle of nowhere, I compiled this list of extremely pertinent facts.

FUN ST. OLAF FACT #1: F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Jay Gatsby dropped out of St. Olaf after only two weeks because he could not bear the janitorial job with which he was paying his tuition.

FUN ST. OLAF FACT #2: Betty White’s character on The Golden Girls came from St. Olaf.

FUN ST. OLAF FACT #3: That honey badger narrator is a graduate of St. Olaf. The internet meme has been viewed more than 43 million times.

FUN ST. OLAF FACT #4: Their fight song, Um Yah Yah, is the only college fight song in the U.S. that’s a waltz. They also chant “Um Yah Yah” fourteen times in the song, which is fourteen times more than any other school in the world. Click on the link if you want to sing along. (The tipping point for Marci were their amazing Um Yum Yum cookies).

FUN ST. OLAF FACT #5: An enormous wind turbine that dominates their “skyline” saves the school a quarter million dollars in electricity costs every year. They were the first liberal arts college in the nation to construct one for the sole purpose of providing energy to the campus.

FUN ST. OLAF FACT #6: They make Malt-o-Meal, the delicious warm breakfast cereal, about twenty steps from campus. The smells waft over Carleton or St. Olaf, depending on the prevailing winds. (subfact: this blogging software can be horrible with lining up graphic elements, depending on the prevailing winds).

FUN ST. OLAF FACT #7: Their national-award-winning Rube Goldberg team has more girls on it than any of the other national Rube Goldberg teams. They made this fun ad for Target.

FUN ST. OLAF FACT #8: And last but certainly not least, there is a long history between Garrison Keillor and the school, including this past fall when he broadcast Prairie Home Companion from their Skoglund Center Auditorium.

My mentor, Bill Palmer of Alma College, has helped me come to terms with actually sending my kids away to college instead of keeping them locked under the stairs. He says St. Olaf has a wonderful reputation among educators so I’m loosening my clutches, albeit hesitantly. Even stranger yet, I found out during our conversation that Bill thinks I would make a good spokesman or Admissions guy for a college I believed in.

Maybe I can get a job there and move the whole family to join Skye. Are you listening Mr. Burgemeister?

Um Yah Yah!

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