At different points along my tenure on campus, I’ve decided to familiarize myself with the places that you might not find on a campus map. Being the adventurer that I am, it wouldn’t suffice to only hang out in the more populated locations on campus. Though these kinds of places do offer a vibrant social atmosphere and plenty of exciting interactions, sometimes I’d rather find the nooks and crannies that the typical passerby overlooks. Not for the sake of being different or a ‘hipster’, but more specifically to unwind and clear my mind.

Now if this bout of discovery requires climbing, then I climb. Many times, I’ll climb down the rocks along the Lakefill to find a personal boulder to sit on and gaze at the Chicago skyline from the edge of Lake Michigan. If it requires hopping, then I hop. Sometimes, hopping out of bed at 7 am to go out and be the first to touch the newly fallen snow along the sidewalks. But when I tell you where my favorite two places to unwind are, I don’t expect you to understand at first because they are both stages of some sort. You see, everyone here has something they do to help them unwind: my friend Chad prefers to read at one of our campus beaches while my friend Jaylen would rather sip coffee somewhere on campus and cut people’s hair in his personal barber shop (not at the same time of course!). As for me, you’ll find me in either Welsh-Ryan Arena or Alice Millar Chapel.

One glance at Northwestern’s campus will quickly reveal that both of these locations aren’t off the beaten track in the slightest! But for the sake of unwinding, I’ve found that they’re a couple of the last places anyone would think to go. You see, most people associate these places with huge events. Welsh-Ryan Arena hosts hundreds of athletic competitions every year from basketball games to volleyball games to wrestling matches galore. Alice Millar Chapel hosts weddings, gospel concerts, and religious services all the time. So what in the world could draw anyone to these places to relax, unwind, or decompress?

Oddly enough, I find Welsh-Ryan Arena as enjoyable filled as I do empty. The chaos of a basketball game mimics the excitement, busyness, and bustling that college can feel like. But most people don’t see the aftermath of the arena long after the fans leave. On occasion, after finishing up morning training sessions with my football teammates, I’ve gone into the arena and found it calm, cool, almost serene. The warmth of the last competition gone, I feel a cool breeze and hear only the steady but relaxing hum of the ceiling vents circulating cool air. I walk across the court, up an aisle, and plop down in one of the comfy seats reserved for season ticket-holders.  Looking around at the softly lit court, signs, and stadium-style seats doesn’t evoke chaos at all. The expanse and size of the room really hits me, yet peace and quiet are soon found.

My other stage for relaxing on campus, Alice Millar Chapel, is also best to me when empty. But instead of being in a dimly lit arena, bright sunlight cascades down on me through the tall stained glass windows illuminating a magnificent sanctuary. Couples get married here, choirs sing hymns here, and lucky for me: I get to play the piano here. It was early on in my freshman year when I discovered that the chapel would have down hours in between events and rehearsals. This was my opportunity to practice piano. Though I’m not classically trained, I’ve always loved the instrument. The chapel’s grand piano faces out from the front of the room resonating beautifully with just the right amount of echo to make it feel like you were at a John Legend concert. As I play on, a passersby might stroll through gazing at the different stained glass windows along the side of the sanctuary. Beauty comes to me in the form of the sunshine that makes the room glow or the sound of a grand piano playing or the tranquility of writing new songs. Whatever the case, there’s no place like it anywhere else.

Really, there is no other place I can see myself unwinding so thoroughly as when I’m in the empty arena or the sunlit chapel. And though I take solace in the solitary nature of it all; should you find yourself on campus seeking calm, there’s plenty of room to spare.

–Austin Carr

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