Category Archives: College Life

Commemoration of Benefactors

Last night I went to a feast at my college held in honor of those who have given to the college through the century.  There was a brief chapel service followed by a 4 hour, 5 course meal with venison, salmon, then lamb, a baked dessert, and then fruit and nuts.  The feast was a lot of fun, though by midnight I was definitely ready to stop eating and get back home.

Celebrating the generosity of benefactors to my college caused me to reflect on all of the generosity I have experienced from others.  I’ve received scholarships big and small at each stage of my education.  Along the way, Rachael and I have been given gifts ranging from a new couch to weekends at a beautiful beach house.  Our parents have undoubtedly been our greatest benefactors, giving us the wedding of our dreams and paying for our education.  When you’ve been in school as long as I have, that definitely adds up, even if there have been some scholarships along the way.  We probably don’t say thank you enough, but we truly are profoundly appreciative of the blessings we have experienced through the generosity of others.

Reflecting upon these blessings reminds me of the transformative potential of generosity.  We’ve been able to use a lot of the gifts we have received to do nice things for others, and many times the original benefactor never finds out all the derivative consequences of their generosity.  It’s a great reminder that it really is more blessed to give than to receive.

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May Ball…oh baby!

Most young girls grow up dreaming about being the belle of the ball.  Only we don’t really have balls in the states (man that is awkward sentence that I can’t think of how to rephrase).  The closest thing we get is prom which is great, but let’s be honest, it isn’t a ball.  The cheesy themes and tacky decor that is taped to the walls of school gyms and hotel banquet rooms doesn’t exactly scream classy, but hey, we were 18 and we didn’t care!  To be fair, I absolutely loved my school prom and Ben’s was beautiful…though my dreamy state that night could have affected reality…but I don’t think so!

Well, I have had my fair share of proms and even college winter balls…but now I am anxious to for the real deal.  Let me introduce to you the Cambridge May Ball.  Most of the colleges that make up the university host a ball in the week following the last week of the school year, and let me tell you, they are extravagant affairs.  They are all night events that spotlight various musical artists, themed tents, unlimited food and drink, and other various forms of entertainment.  Some of the highlights from the last few years include: huge firework displays, punts (long, flat boats) filled with champagne, war reenactments, full-scale tepees, courtyards flooded to create little Venice boats and all, and probably my favorite, balloon rides and flights to Paris for breakfast.  Now that is how you end a ball!

Ever since we arrived in Cambridge, I have been dreaming of attending the Peterhouse May Ball.  It is one of the only white tie (men’s coat tails) balls and it is only held every three years.   The Peterhouse Ball was announced last week and I have been giddy ever since.  This is the year.  You cannot imagine the delight I have experienced this week as the story gets even better.  I was informed yesterday that I was selected as the Non-Musical Entertainment Officer for the Peterhouse May Ball Committee…AHHH…I AM SO EXCITED!!!!  Imagine me throwing my fists in the air in victory of this momentous occasion.

I, Rachael Wilson, get to plan a BALL!  A real life, go big or go home ball.  Top hats, ball gowns, unlimited food and drinks, and amazing details that I can’t share until the event, but can tell you I am SOO excited about.  This is huge folks.  Two of my dreams are coming true at once.  I not only get to attend a ball, but I get the experience of planning one.  I am beside myself.


Rare Treasures of Cambridge

One of the most positive aspects of my experience as a student at Cambridge has been my college, Peterhouse.  Today the Master of the college had several of us first year students over to his lodge for lunch.  This is something new he’s doing with all the first year students, and it’s the sort of thing that makes you feel like you’re a part of the community.  The tour of the house is what I’d like to focus on, because it was really cool. 

First of all, the interior of the house looks like the prototype for Disney’s haunted mansion ride.  The ceilings are high.  There are really big portraits on all the walls.  I’m pretty sure I even saw some candlesticks floating in the air.  In one room, the Master showed us an ebony desk cabinet that was custom-made for a former master of the college back in the 1600’s.  In another room, the master showed us a globe that was from around the 1820’s.  The US was just a little sliver along the East Coast and then a narrow diagonal strip from the southeast toward Oregon.  Everything else in North America was either Mexico or Canada.  That was pretty cool.

After he showed us the globe, the master walked over to a book shelf and pulled out what looked like a really old photo album.  He turned the pages for a second, then he proceeded to show us what he claimed to be the world’s first color photograph.  Literally?  The world’s first color photo?  Shouldn’t that be in a museum or something?  Well, I looked up the image online, and yes, it was the world’s first color photograph.  Apparently one of the master’s ancestors invented the color photograph.  Then, a guy named Kodak came along and improved upon the process, and the rest is history.  I think the master should take his picture over to the Pawn Stars in Vegas and see how much they’ll give him for it!

After our tour, we had a nice lunch and walk in the garden.  The Master has a very, very nice yard.  Master Dixon is a gracious host, and I really had a nice time connecting with some of my peers and getting a glimpse of some pretty cool treasures.


Reasons to Come Visit us in Cambridge – #1 Formal Hall

After the post about our homely flat and Rachael’s tale of horror about her trip home from the store, we’re worried that we might have scared away a few potential visitors.  So, as a way of highlighting some of the things we love about our new home and making a shameless appeal for people to come see us, we’ve decided to do a series of posts about why you should come see our lovely city – as if you needed to be persuaded!  Numero Uno – Formal Hall.

When was the last time you had a three course dinner by candle-light?  For under $10?  In a magnificent dining hall built almost 500 years before the signing of the Declaration of Independence?  It has been a while, hasn’t it?  Well, if that sounds like something you might enjoy, just come to Cambridge, and we’ll take you to Formal Hall, a nightly feast at Ben’s college!

Here’s how it works:  Students have to wear their robes; guests can wear anything reasonably dressy.  Everybody walks into the dining hall and stands in front of their seat.  Then, a gong sounds, everyone goes silent, and the fellows (scholars) from the college file into the room from a sneaky passageway in the back.  They stand around their own head table, and everyone else continues to stand at these incredibly long wooden tables.  Next, one of the fellows prays two Latin prayers.  Then, everyone sits, and a wait staff wearing tuxedos serves a three-course meal from a set menu.  The food is pretty good, but it’s really all about the experience.  At about three-quarters of the way through the meal, another gong suddenly sounds, which is a little scary and confusing.  Everybody stands in silence once again while the fellows file out of the room through that same sneaky passageway, only to resume the meal once the fellows are gone.  When the meal is over, some overhead lighting at one end of the room comes on, signalling that it’s time to leave.

Now, a few things about formal hall that stuck out to us.  First, when you’re wearing a suit and a heavy academic robe, you quickly realize just how hot a room full of people can get when there isn’t any air-conditioning.  It wasn’t even 70 degrees outside, and Ben had some major sweat stains by the end of the evening!  Second, when everyone suddenly stands up in the middle of the meal, you have to be careful to push the seat back far enough.  We were both awkwardly leaning over the table, delicately holding our balance and trying not to fall while everyone stood in silence around us.  Could have been an embarrassing situation!  Third, you have to be strategic about where you sit.  The hall has three long rows of tables.  The middle table is the most obvious when you walk in, but it’s the two side tables that make for better seats, since you can sit against the wall and get some back support for the two-hour meal.  Two hours sitting with no back at a fancy picnic table isn’t the most comfortable way to enjoy a meal!

After the formal hall that we attended last week, we went on a ghost tour of Cambridge, where we learned all about the grim and ghastly past of our new haunt.  Ghost stories to come…

A Sad Game of Skip-Bo after a Hard Day in the Office!


Matriculation Day – The World of Harry Potter comes to Life

At Cambridge University, every student belongs to one of thirty-one colleges (just as Hogwarts is divided into the four houses of Gryffindor, Slytherin, Hufflepuff, and Ravenclaw).  These colleges coordinate the social life of students, provide general academic guidance and personalized support, and arrange for student accommodations.  Ben is a member of the smallest and oldest of the Cambridge colleges, Peterhouse. 

Earlier this week, the various colleges held their matriculation days.  It is at matriculation that new students are made official members of the university and college.  At some colleges, the process is very brief and without much pageantry.  At Peterhouse, the ceremony involves wearing academic robes, assembling in a 13th century hall, passing through a narrow corridor, individually swearing an oath to abide by the college rules while holding a Latin paddle, signing off on that oath, and then shaking the hand of the college master.  Basically, aside from the magical hat, it’s the annual sorting ceremony from Harry Potter.  If your last name begins with ‘W’, then the process is especially long, since everything proceeds by alphabetical order. 

Below are a couple of pictures of me in my robe.  Since I’m over 24 and working on a PhD, I have a longer robe that goes to my ankles.  Younger students get knee-length, open-sleeved robes.  There’s also a picture of Rachael and me in the Peterhouse courtyard.  Also, be sure to take the quiz at the end of this post.