Love At First Barrel Vault

And the third thing no one tells you when you try to transfer (don’t worry, I promise this is the last one): When you find the school that works for you, you’ll fall in love, often in the least expected way.

I love architecture, particularly the architecture found on college campuses. You can step onto any campus in America, from my hometown’s beloved Cal State Fullerton to the glacially cold quads of Brown, and recognize the cool Gothic structures that have been built upon English campuses since Oxford first adopted the style. But there’s something special about Pomona’s particular interpretation of Oxford-Gothic. Here old Medieval Architecture blends with the Art Deco stylings of our beloved Big Bridges and the Spanish Colonial color-scheme of most of our residence halls, creating a sleepy microcosm of Californian architecture (not to mention the architectural treasure troves of the other 5Cs, CMC’s modernism and Scripps’s drowsy Mediterranean architecture adding a little spice to Pomona’s brownness).

But it wasn’t the Baroque facade of Little Bridges or Kravis Center looming over Pomona that made me fall in love with Pomona. It was a barrel vault. I saw this barrel vault–this most humble bit of architecture, a classic since the Romans–in the Smith Campus Center. Something about it, and the simple overcast vista that it made, compelled me to take a picture.

It’s not a good picture. It’s not fancy. It’s not high-res. It’s shot on an iPhone 4s, an artifact in the brave new world of the block-sized iPhone 6. And the subject is so small, so unassuming, something that now, as a student, I have walked through multiple times while going to get my mail, always forgetting to notice it despite the picture that I took. I wonder even now why that moment captured me so, why this barrel vault spoke to me.

I came from a big school, in which there was not a single building under three stories tall. That campus towered behemoth-like above the student body, to me a constant reminder of how I felt like a cog in my own school. The culture there, one of “best”-ness, one of obsession not over academics but over ego, had sucked me dry so many times over. No humility could be found in those old halls. But here–and that picture captures this–there’s a pious humility, one that permeates not only the architecture but the student body itself, the administration; basically the entire school is built up on this sense of humble ardent virtue.

I took that picture a few days after my finals week at my old college, when I took of tour at Pomona. The first thing I noticed, aside from the grassy green fields, the long tracks of pastoral land, and the cute-as-ever Claremont Village, was how kind everyone I met here was. Frances Nan, the friendly admissions officer who guided the info session, recognized me from my transfer application and introduced me to the admissions officer who had read my Common App. The majority of my peers on this tour were juniors in high school, themselves as lost as I was, not knowing what attending a small liberal arts college truly entailed. Everything felt personal. There was a closeness here, a community made in an instant.

As we then walked through campus on a small guided tour, a student dead-eyed from his previous week of finals parading us through the halls of Pomona, talking about how he had done research on David Hume with a professor for fun, I looked around at these high schoolers, so much younger than I, at this tour guide, a sophomore when I was a junior, and I felt this odd point of connection. We had all gathered to discover something about this school. Maybe it was the quietude of the week after finals, everyone moved out, leaving just a humble unhumaned home in tranquil silence. Maybe it was the fact that this tour guide seemed so assured that we would love it here. Maybe it was the lack of bureaucracy, of getting to talk to an admissions officer without needing to make an appointment. Or maybe it was just that little piece of humble architecture.

Hard to tell now. I’ve had so many good memories here at Pomona, in the short span of just ten weeks, that it becomes difficult to peer into the past and discover exactly why I first fell in love. And each memories makes that first day seem brighter (I had forgotten, till I looked at the picture for this article, that it had been in fact a dreary, cool morning) because the decision I made then, to put down my housing deposit, to go all in, has kept proving me right.