winter 2008 Edition
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sunny side up in the dark of night

A recent grad recalls the Willamette tradition of Midnight Breakfast

It was big exam time, and I was headed to my cave at the library to read a 300-page, $200 textbook in three hours flat.

Passing Goudy on the way, I saw my frown reflected in the window of the dining hall. “What I’d give for some coffee and hash browns,” I thought, making a left by the Mill Stream — only to run into a line of students trailing all the way back to the clock tower. A rain-soaked sign prompted my memory: Midnight Breakfast! 10 p.m. – 12 a.m., Goudy Commons, Sponsored by Willamette Events Board (WEB). While no one seems to recall exactly when the tradition started, it’s been going strong for at least 17 years.

My rare talent for procrastination got the better of me, and I fell in line. “I’ll study better if I’m not hungry, right?” I argued with myself, amazed at the turnout for this annual event.

Inside Goudy, Marc Marelich, Bon Appétit food service director, and his team were training more than a dozen new servers — Willamette faculty, staff and administrators — on hygiene matters and portion sizes. On the evening in question, they had traded in dry-erase markers for spatulas, but the questions they posed were almost as difficult as those in the classroom: eggs with cheese or without?

 Eggs and Bacon
“I’ll study better if I’m not hungry, right?”
As the doors opened at 10 p.m., a bubbly WEB member greeted me and energetically clicked an arithmometer to keep a head count. It felt like a dream, but the smell of the four buffets was so real: scrambled eggs, bacon, potatoes, French toast, pancakes — almost everything we saw during a normal breakfast at Goudy, plus Sunday waffles… and Nacho Córdova, my rhetoric professor?! I skipped ahead to the next station, staffed by… Systems Librarian Bill Kelm ’91. This wasn’t a dream. This was as real and serious as the library resources Kelm discussed as he plated my food with experienced finesse. He worked in Goudy when he was a student, and he remembers joining his friends at one of the first Midnight Breakfast events — that’s why he volunteers his time. Córdova, who loves campus activity, volunteers because he thinks “many faculty see the classroom as the only place of activity, [but] all buildings are meant to be engaging.”

Engaging? More like magnetic. Nearly 400 students were served in the 20 minutes I stood there trying to convince myself this was real. Daniel Carroll ’08, MBA’10, former WEB “random fun” chair, said the event averages 400 to 500 students. One year, Marelich said, they served nearly 1,000 students — roughly half of the entire undergraduate population — in just an hour.

In Goudy’s Great Hall, the normally naked tables were covered with paper and crayons. I found a group of friends and took a seat, sawing into my stack of pancakes and bopping my head to the music being served up by ASWU Sound.

With every tick of the clock, I imagined textbook pages shredding, but enjoying time with so many friends was a rarity when everyone has such busy schedules — classes, work, clubs, study abroad. And those crazy schedules were reflected in students’ attitude toward the evening’s festivities. Some, like Carroll, stay for the full time, adhering to his “If I don’t know it by now, I won’t know it after staying up all night” mentality. He treated Midnight Breakfast as a party and helped initiate dining-hall-wide table dancing. For others, like Cheryl Moy ’07, it was a chance to take a break past her usual school-night bedtime. “It’s almost as though the University tells the students, ‘Okay, take a break, now,’” Moy said.

And a refreshing break it was, both from quotidian routine and from the pressure that comes before the milestone of another semester successfully completed. “It’s out of the ordinary,” Córdova said. “A lot of what we do is routine, so part of the appeal is break. When we encounter rupture, it provides an opportunity, a new meaning.”

That meaning could be quite profound — “food as the perfect social rubric,” as Córdova suggests. Or it could be blissfully simple — “procrastinate and eat free food,” two tenets of college life.

— Tatiana Mac ’08