Clemson and a Prom Dress

Six and a half miles on the treadmill at the Hampton Inn in Clemson, NC left me both rejuvenated and exhausted.  Running in place, watching the time, the distance and my pace is incomparable to my outdoor runs.  While I sweated away my free hour in an air-conditioned room, Savannah slept in, building energy for our final college tour of the week.  We were told to arrive 15 minutes early for our noon tour, so we took our time and arrived on campus at 11:30.

We drove around and around the Clemson University visitor center on campus, a futile attempt at finding parking.  At last, I pulled up in the circular driveway of the visitor center and Savannah ran into the building to ask what our other parking options might be.  As we were now close to our tour time, we were told we could park right there in the circle.  Happy to not have to walk too far before we began our tour, I tucked the visitor parking pass on the dashboard and we hurried inside.

We found more than a hundred prospective students seated on tiny folding chairs in the alumni conference room.  There was not a seat to be had, so we made our way to the back of the room and stood, listening to various departments of the college discuss admissions, financial aid, housing, “Greek life”, and football.  We looked around the room, wondering what our tour would be like.  After only 15 minutes, the mass of students and parents were divided into about seven groups and then we were led outside.  We learned that there were few high school juniors.  Most of the students were seniors who had already been accepted at Clemson.  I was happy we were visiting before acceptance; it felt right to see what the school was like before Savannah had her heart set on attending.

We walked for what seemed like miles around the campus.  Although the student population at Clemson is smaller than UNC Charlotte, (19,000 and 25,000, respectively) the campus is much, much larger.  We were shown freshman dorms, historic buildings, particular buildings for particular departments.  We saw the student union, the new student union, the athletic fields.   Our guide was a friendly, knowledgeable junior at the school.  He explained how the housing worked, how the meal tickets worked, transportation systems, and class sizes.  We walked the campus for over two hours and did not seem to make a dent in seeing everything.  I felt lost most of the time, continually turning around and looking for landmarks to get my bearings.  By the time we were through, we had not seen the architecture buildings, had not eaten lunch, and had no idea what specific requirements there were to be accepted into the program Savannah had heard so many great things about—sustainable architecture.

After the tour, we found our way to one of the dining halls to try the food.  Our guide had ensured us that there were lots of vegan options, so we were confident that we would at least have a great meal before stopping by the admissions office and then uncovering Lee Hall, the building that housed the design studios.

It was well after 2 p.m. when we entered the dining hall.  We were told that all that was available was “quick lunch” and were unable even to get a veggie burger.  The deli was open, offering lots of sliced meats and cheese.  The burger and corn dog station was open.  You know what they had.  The salad bar was ordinary at best, and a small metal box held some plain sliced tofu for protein.  There was pizza, too, sitting on trays under heat lamps.  I tried to find some decent whole grain bread or a wheat wrap for our pathetic salads.  None.  Worst of all, none of the people working in the dining hall were friendly or helpful.  When I approached the “Organic Bar”, the woman sullenly boomed, “Closed!”  We ate our meager meal and headed out to find the admissions building.

We were immediately ushered into the head of admissions office.  The woman was friendly and kind, explaining the process to us.  When we asked about the architecture program, she gave us the name, address, and phone number of the head of the department.  We trudged back outside into the hot day and I called.  We were invited to make the ten minute walk over to his building and visit.

The building was at the opposite end of the campus.  We used the site map to find it; the building was hidden behind another.  The head of the department welcomed us in, but lacked enthusiasm for both discussing the programs the school offered and for Savannah’s questions.  When we asked about seeing the studios, he stepped with us into the hall and pointed us in the direction, but did not offer to take us through.  We did learn that no portfolio is required for admittance—unusual compared to any other architecture programs we have investigated.

The studios were unimpressive, and each student had to share their station with at least four other students.  We left the building feeling let down and disappointed—this school was the main reason for our road trip.  Clemson is listed as one of the top colleges in the US for its sustainable architecture program.  As we plodded across the weaving pathways of the campus, looking for the landmarks to find our way back to the visitor center, we wondered how a school with reviews like we had read could be so unenthusiastic about such a program.  It seemed as though the football team and games took precedence over everything else.

As we climbed into the car, removing our sandals from our blistered feet, loud warning horns began to sound all around us.  A voice boomed over loudspeakers announcing severe lightning warnings.  We threw the Magical Garmin onto the windshield, quickly selected our next destination, and got out of there as fast as we could!

We had planned our return route to accommodate dinner at a vegan-friendly restaurant in Johnson City, TN.  We drove through a few rain showers and along a busy strip mall highway that became a divided highway until we reached Johnson City.  We followed the instructions on the Magical Garmin and were led into a run-down part of the city.  Near a bunch of boarded-up buildings, the Mad City Grill huddled alone.  There were a handful of big men standing outside smoking, and we did not see a parking lot.  I didn’t need to say a word.  Savannah groaned, “I’ll did out some of your homemade powerbars, Mum.”

“No.  Let’s get back on the highway.  We’ll find something, honey.”

We went a bit farther along and saw signs for a mall.  We exited onto another strip and I pulled into a place called Moto—Japanese fast food, a first for us.  We ate, hungry, but not impressed.  When we were finished, I asked the cashier about the mall.  We listened carefully to the directions and headed back onto the strip.

The other goal of this trip was to find a prom dress.  Savannah will attend two proms consecutively on May 6th and 7th.  She and I both thought it would be cool to find a dress in the south—something different from what everyone else at home would have.  Our time had been tight the whole week and we did not have the opportunity to explore any shopping.  With such a disappointing day, we eagerly hopped out of the car and headed into the mall.

JC Penny was the big store there.  I kept my voice bright.  “Maybe there will be something good in this mall.  You never know.  Let’s just take a little walk around.”

Seconds later, down a short side wing of the mall, I spotted a store.  Princess Diaries.  The front window was jammed with gowns.  All fancy.  Bright, dark, pouf-y, slinky.  My heart started to race.  Where were stores like this when I was a teenager?

We went in were greeted right away by a pretty young girl.  In minutes, Savannah was lining up gowns to try.  The salesgirl asked about colors, styles, and sizes.  I sat in a comfy chair while my daughter slipped into one beautiful dress after another.  Two young girls were in the shop, too, and they stood beside me, waiting for Savannah to come out and model each dress.  They oohed and aah-ed over each one, giving their opinions in their soft southern drawls.  Finally, Savannah chose, with the help of those charming girls, a plum gown.  It fit her curves without being too clingy, showing off her figure in a new, very grown-up way.  The fabric draped over her tiny waist, and a rhinestone accent gathered the fabric slightly to the side of her middle.  The material pleated just beneath the accent and flowed down over her hips to barely graze the ground.  The top was a one-shoulder style, flattering her slender neck and the back dropped low, showing off her shiny, hip-length hair.

“We’ll take it!”

As we strode out of the mall, gown safely encased in a long plastic bag on a hanger, we grinned at each other.  The day turned out to be a good one after all.

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One Comment on “Clemson and a Prom Dress”

  1. Craig Says:

    I am so glad that the day ended on a good note.

    Making this trip down there really paid off, Savannah would have hated it if she had picked Clemson sight-unseen. Makes you wonder where those “best program” reviews came from, (and who paid for them).


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