The Last Page

The Miscellany Time Warp

By Rebecca Schuman ’98

It’s Jonathan Swerdloff ’97’s fault, for posting a link to the 100-year anniversary dinner for the weekly Miscellany News, held at Alumnae House on March 27. I’m sure organizers were expecting the current staff and their friends, maybe a handful of area alums. What they didn’t realize was that for me and many other former Misc. staff, working on the paper was the most important thing we did in college.

If it weren’t for the long hours editing “important” things like the April Fools issue, I undoubtedly would have had a better GPA. But I would not possess the qualities that have kept me more or less employed since graduation: respect for deadlines; thirst for teamwork; recognition that the later you stay up at night working on a project, the prouder you will be when it comes out. And I’m not alone, as evidenced by the viral booking of travel and lodging by the staff of the 1990s era, who, spurred by Swerd, descended upon the alma mater en masse.

There were eight of us—Swerdloff, myself, Jessica Barron ’96, Jessica Thaler Zahn ’96, Jon Kang ’96, Libby Hawley Morgan ’96, Joe Goldman ’98, and Amanda Spielman ’97—and it was the first time we’d all been in the same room in nearly two decades. The first thing we noticed was that everything about Vassar and the Misc. was exactly the same, only we were older (and, in Spielman’s case, pregnant-er). And then, alternately, upon closer inspection, much about Vassar and the Misc. had changed, and only we remained the same.

A few members of the current staff—Maddy Vogel ’15, Eloy Bleifuss-Prados ’16, Meaghan Hughes ’15, and Christopher Brown ’16—let us into the newspaper’s office, which still occupies the same tucked-away corner of the College Center’s third floor. To our mingled horror and delight, we noticed that several of the armchairs from our day remained—a couple of their numerous stains, in fact, probably attributable to my coffee drool.

But, as we talked to the present editors, we learned that while production night remains as goofy—and as late—as ever, life at the Misc. has transformed with the times. With today’s near-total digital publication, gone are the scraps of paper littering every available office surface. Gone, alas, is the student-run café downstairs, whose $.75 java and drywall scones fueled every issue of the 1990s. Gone, from the newspaper’s pages, is the irreverent back-page calendar, replaced by an entire “Humor and Satire” section. We told them that if you have to label satire, then it doesn’t work—but you’d be surprised at how confident today’s young folks are that they know what they’re doing. (We were never like that.)

Before we could wear out our welcome, my crew meandered to CC237, once the site of our interminable Monday-night editorial board meetings. We sat yapping on its semicircle of couches, our conversation as passionate—and as punctuated with hysterics—as the last time we’d all been in that room together. If there had been alcohol served at the Mug, I would have sworn it was still 1996.

At dinner at Alumnae House, a wine-emboldened Barron and Kang stormed the mic, imploring the new generation to revive the April Fools issue; we were once again dismissed with the patient smiles reserved for the doddering. But as evening turned into late night, and the more pregnant and grown-up of us peeled off, I found myself, at 3 a.m., sitting with Swerdloff and the Jessicas at the Acropolis Diner, in the same booth, drinking what appeared to be the exact same questionable cup of coffee I had at the age of 19. Sure, my ability to consume waffle fries is a pale shadow of what it used to be. But in those exhausted moments, with friends I hadn’t seen in two decades, I did not want the night to end.

Even now, back in St. Louis, living my grown-up life, this impromptu reunion was so viscerally real that part of me still secretly believes that the past 18 years have been a dream. I feel like I just had an actual Ed Board meeting in CC237, and that tomorrow morning I will wake up on my lumpy futon in Main, ready to head up to the Misc. office to finish editing my section.

Rebecca Schuman ’98 is the education columnist for Slate magazine and a regular contributor to the Chronicle of Higher Education. She is the author of the forthcoming Kafka and Wittgenstein, to be published by the Northwestern University Press in 2015.