The Green Lamp Room

Hi all, I am working on a series of blog posts based on writing prompts. This week’s prompt is: “Write about a place where you felt comfortable or safe”. This first place that popped into my head was a room in the Paterno library at Penn State. I’ll see where this takes me…


I took various paths and routes to this room over my four years at Penn State. Sometimes I was wearing jean shorts and a sweatshirt, or a sundress and flip -flops, or leggings and rain-boots, depending on the weather outside. No matter the path I took to get there or what was happening in the little bubble we lived in that was State College, one could always find a sense of comfort at one of the dozens of long wooden tables with green readings lamps on them.

I had heard from someone that this room was constructed as a replica of the New York City Public Library Reading Room. Having never visited that library, the Green Lamp Room always felt like the original to me, and a place inherent to Penn State. Maybe the lamps emitted some special chemical that helped you better absorb formulas and equations and theories, because my most effective studying always took place in this room. Time seemed to move at warp speed once I opened up my MacBook or binder of notes at a table in the Green Lamp Room.

The way college time passed in general seemed to be an extension of this. People always say that college is “the best four years of your life.” Like most writers, I dislike clichés, finding it irksome when every well-meaning friend’s parent, professor, librarian or lunch lady felt compelled to impart this pearl of wisdom on me. It was always delivered like it was something utterly inventive instead of the hackneyed expression that someone had once told them twenty or thirty or fifty years ago.

It is not until you arrive on the other side that you realize that all of these people were just trying to help. They were reminding me to savor the moments during your finest years that flew by too fast for everyone. In order to accept this, I had to come to the conclusion on my own that college was a unique chronological scope; years barreling by too fast for anyone to fully appreciate while they were happening.

It happened while working at Penn State’s “Lion Line,” a division of the Office of Alumni & Donor Relations where students would call alumni to “catch up” and “check in” and then subtlety, strategically ask for a “gift” (never a “donation.”) that would help other students have their awesome “Penn State experience”.

One would think that cold-calling alumni would result in a long sequence of hang-ups, but the “let’s catch up with an old friend” hook worked surprisingly well on many occasions. Once people realized that the call was an opportunity to relive their college years for a few minutes, they would happily divulge the shenanigans they got into with their freshmen roommates or their plans to come back for a visit during “Blue & White weekend”.

I was talking to an alumnus, whose story I wish I could remember in greater detail. He was in the category of alumni who had made gifts before, but not in the past couple years. I had been on the phone with him for about ten minutes, which was longer than a typical call. He was an older guy who seemed to have plenty of time to shoot the breeze with his fellow Nittany Lion.

I was asking him about his Penn State experience; where did he meet his friends? What was his favorite part about Penn State? Then he started asking about me, and I told him that I was a sophomore in the College of Health & Human Development, living in Atherton Hall.

“The time goes by so fast,” I said to him casually, “every year it seems to go by faster,” I added with the air of wisdom and maturity that belongs to all of those who have survived one year of college.

“That’s it. Absolutely, every year goes by faster than the one before,” he said, “And it’ll only get worse once you leave Happy Valley.”

After I hung up with the old guy, one of the supervisors came over to my cube. The supervisors periodically got on the lines and listened to the conversations of random callers to judge our performances, so that’s what I figured he was coming to talk to me about.

“Hey Joanna, I was just listening to your call,” Brendan began, “Yeah, I mean you did a good job. It was fifteen minutes long, and usually we don’t want to stay on the phone that long. He was an interesting guy though. That line you said about ‘time going faster each year,’ that was really good. That’s definitely the kind of nostalgia we want alumni to feel. Nice one.”

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