Picture-perfect caucus weekend

An unusually warm October weekend turns one Volunteer Caucus attendee’s mind to the rhythm of seasons on the quads.

Octobers are always a busy time at the University. Parents’ weekend, Humanities Day, and an annual parcel of symposia and conferences compete for space on campus at its most scenic time. A single recent weekend, October 7-9, hosted the Homecoming picnic and football game (the Maroons defeated Denison, 36-7), the Athletics Hall of Fame induction ceremony, a meeting of the Alumni Board of Governors, and the annual Volunteer Caucus. Although I work at the University, I attended the caucus this year primarily as an alumnus, joining more than 200 volunteers from across the University and around the world to share and learn about the ways they support the institution with their time.

Between meeting Sarah McGill, the new director of the Alumni Schools Committee; hearing from Board of Trustees chair Andrew Alper, AB’80, MBA’81, and new vice president for Alumni Relations and Development Thomas J. Farrell; and learning about upcoming improvements to the Alumni and Friends web community, participants’ conversations kept returning to the unusually warm weather. This was no surprise to those of us who live in the city: Chicagoans have been commenting for months about what unusually good weather the city has enjoyed this year.

A relatively gentle winter, long and warm spring, and generally mild summer are now being followed by one of the most beautiful autumns I’ve experienced since first coming here to attend the College in 1996. Most years, of course, the city has no such luck. When William Rainey Harper was first developing his plan for the new University of Chicago, he invented the quarter system in part to take advantage of the region’s climate. Students and faculty were intended to choose which three quarters they would attend, with the expectation that the winter quarter—not summer—would be the least crowded on campus.

Although the quarter system continues to thrive at the University and at other institutions that have since adopted it, Harper’s scheme for avoiding Chicago winters didn’t last until opening day. Still, on particularly beautiful campus days my mind turns back to that aborted plan, and I consider what a different experience generations of students might have had if they had spent Aprils-to-Decembers, rather than Octobers-to-Junes, on the quads.

Of course, the largest University events are carefully planned to fall on the most beautiful days of the year. Alumni Weekend has been the first weekend in June for decades, and most years result in picture-perfect weekends that make it easy to romanticize what it was like to live and study at Chicago. But as much as those early-summer days can warm an undergraduate’s (or an alumnus’s) heart, they don’t compare to the cool, crisp days of autumnal colors creeping across the facades of Cobb and Swift halls as the ivy turns and begins to shed its leaves.

Kyle Gorden, AB’00

The 2010 Volunteer Caucus attendees; autumn colors on campus.
Photos courtesy Dan Dry and the University of Chicago News Office.

October 22, 2010