Thank you to all alumni who submitted essays on residence life for our Alumni Essay Contest. We received many excellent submissions, and the decision was difficult for our judges. The winning essay appears below. However, additional essays will appear on our website at


Dorm Days

By Matthew D. Emmer 84C, Chevy Chase, Maryland

In the fall of 1980, Emory was in transition. The University had recently received $105 million from brothers Robert W. and George W. Woodruff, the largest single gift ever bestowed upon a school at the time. Emory subsequently began a building and expansion boom that changed it forever, physically and otherwise. As a resident of on-campus housing all four years, I experienced this transformation firsthand.

My freshman year in Longstreet consisted of pushing boundaries. Our RA spent much of his time confiscating toaster ovens and other contraband. A six-foot cardboard carpet tube became a bazooka during a bottle-rocket war in the hallway. One night, fraternity brothers abducted two pledges from the floor, stripped them, tied them to a couple of large trees in the Longstreet-Means courtyard, and pulled the fire alarms in Means. Hundreds of female students emerged to gawk at the pledges.

My following two years were spent on the ground floor of Thomas. Our behavior in the courtyard of the Complex was much improved over that of freshman year, with barbeques and badminton games. My roommate and I built lofts to elevate our mattresses and create more space. However, when we tried to store our bed frames in the supply room, the staff refused. We went to see the director of housing, thinking that we could convince him. Instead, he treated us to stories of his two tours in Vietnam, where, instead of a comfy dorm room, he had slept in rice paddies with mines, leeches, and snipers. Needless to say, he was unsympathetic to our case. Our overturned bed frames became part of the unique motif of the room.

One winter night, after a rare snowstorm, I was studying at my desk. Suddenly, I heard a loud thud at my window. I turned to see the remnants of a large snowball. In the courtyard was the culprit—a laughing, golden-haired student from Smith, in a long coat and white gloves. I ran outside to engage her in a snow battle. It was impossible not to fall in love with her.

In the spring, one of my floormates arranged an event to mark the passing of Emory’s trimester system and the corresponding demise of “Wonderful Wednesday,” when we had no classes. Gathering outside, thousands of us participated in the world’s largest nonalcoholic toast, hoisting commemorative cups filled with—you guessed it—Coke. Helicopters from the Guinness Book of World Records organization hovered overhead to photograph the crowd. I still drink from my cup.

For senior year, I moved into the brand new Turman complex, part of the University’s physical transformation. Turman was a sparkling semicircle of white and glass surrounding a shallow amphitheater. Three buddies and I shared a ground floor apartment in Turman South. I was elected dorm president by campaigning on a platform of dining room chairs. We had dining tables, but no chairs. Given the lack of a war or other issue galvanizing the students, it seemed important at the time.

Soon afterward, we threw Turman’s first official party. The theme was Regional Spirit, bringing together North, South, East, and West. It was such a smashing success that the next day, I had the privilege of giving Turman’s carpets their inaugural shampooing. Another evening, we held an outdoor film festival in the amphitheater. I wanted to show The Graduate. Another Turman dorm president wanted Jaws. We showed both movies. It was perhaps the worst pairing in double-feature history.

Early in spring finals week, my apartment mate, apparently quite stressed out, opened our sliding door, stepped onto the patio, and yelled at the top of his lungs. The result was delightful. The acoustics of the amphitheater caused his voice to bounce around and hang in the air. This gave me an idea. Within hours, we had printed and distributed flyers throughout Turman, calling for Primal Scream Therapy each day during finals at an appointed time. The next day at the appointed time, we stepped outside and waited. Seconds later, a great cacophony filled the air. In a scene right out of the movie Network, dozens of students opened their windows to the amphitheater and screamed. The sound was brilliant. Apparently, it was brilliant enough to drift over to the nearby neighborhood and frighten the residents. The police arrived, driving right up into the amphitheater. I will never forget the sight of the officer shaking his head when we tried to explain.

My final nighttime hours were spent hitting golf balls off our patio toward the Egleston Hospital parking deck. With my considerable slice, I had no luck hitting my target.

All in all, living in the Emory dorms for four years was an extraordinary experience that immersed me in the pulse beat of the University twenty-four hours a day, during a time of tremendous growth and change for the school.

By the way, if anyone finds a Titleist 3 golf ball next to the Egleston Hospital parking deck, I want it back. I want it all back.



 © 2007 Emory University