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  Written by
  Sharla A. Stewart

  Photography by
  Lloyd DeGrane

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The life and tomes


A new Chicago seven
If, as Plato noted in the Republic, "The direction in which education starts a man will determine his future life," then these are portentous days for the 1,081 men and women whom the College now calls the Class of 2005. In this first installment of a four-year project, the Magazine introduces seven from the most recent generation of students to take up a Chicago education. Here and in future issues, the group explains what's on their minds, walls, and bookshelves-in addition to Plato-as they move in the direction of their future lives.

Ashley White-Stern
Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts
Thompson House, Pierce Hall

PHOTO:  A new Chicago sevenMuch can be divined about a College student from her selection of late-night snacks, and Ashley White-Stern is no exception. "I know how they are pronounced, but I have no idea about the spelling," she says of the North African treats baked by the Tunisian-Orthodox Jewish nanny she and her sisters call Mémé. "Bou-lou is a loaf-shaped cookie. It has chocolate, slivers of orange peel, nuts, and raisins in it. Then cak look like mini-bagels, but they are cookies. I brought them to remind me of home."

Among other favorite items in the eighth-floor room she shares with a woman from a small town in Michigan (like her, a dancer, Francophile, and heavy sleeper): Margaret Atwood poetry, David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest, her Super-8mm film camera, and a poster of the film Jesus' Son.

"Writing and literature are very important to me, as are films. We use these media to tell our stories; we use our stories to remind us who we are," White-Stern says. "One of my old teachers and good friends used to say 'History is the story of who we are, where we've been, and where we are going.' This has always stuck with me. Perhaps I feel this more than others, as I am both African-American and Jewish. History, and the way that stories are told, are vitally important to both the black and the Jewish communities. This is something I've always understood, something that I've always believed in."

As for the years ahead of her: "I don't plan to change the fundamentals: I love being in school, I love to learn, I feel good creating things, and service to the community is important to me," she says. "Other stuff-my desire to make films, my desire to go to medical school-that might change, but we'll cross that bridge when we get to it. My hope is that I will change and grow naturally, without ever losing my center."

Julio Chavezmontes
Mexico City
Talbot House, Broadview Hall

PHOTO:  A new Chicago seven"I am from Mexico City," Julio Chavezmontes writes to the Magazine, "a seemingly infinite city of sharp contrasts, engulfed by a surreal atmosphere that makes you believe anything is possible. I come from the American School Foundation High School, a private international school; one of the best in the city. Throughout high school I was involved in community service, being a member of the National Honor Society and the president of Project Lead for two consecutive years. Also, I collaborated with the school newspaper and was managing editor for the literary magazine.

"Now, in the U of C, I have joined the Euphony [literary journal] staff, and I am searching for a community service club to get involved with. Living in Broadview [on 55th St. and S. Hyde Park Blvd.] makes it hard to be actively involved in campus life; reason for which I might change dorms next year. I do not know yet what I want to concentrate in. So far, I am planning on a degree in an area of the social sciences (except economics), along with a degree in Spanish literature."

For his photograph, Chavezmontes cradles a 1901 edition of the Divine Comedy, an 18th-birthday gift from his mother and one of the 40 volumes he brought from home. Of the most recent additions to his collection-textbooks-he says, "all of them seem to have a fascinating aspect that makes them irresistible. How to distinguish between the Iliad, the Republic, the Orestia, the Histories by Herodotus, The Prince, and others which one is the most interesting? I can tell, however, which seems the most daunting. Augustine's City of God against the Pagans seems a massive challenge, but still very interesting."

On Chavezmontes's walls hang "little fragments of time I cherish"-posters, photos, and paintings by his 5-year-old sister.

Carlos Grenier
Harper House, Woodward Court

PHOTO:  A new Chicago seven"I don't know why I didn't have my guitar in the photo. I probably should have." It's 10 a.m. on Wednesday and Carlos Grenier, just woken up, struggles to recall his interests. He plays guitar for personal enjoyment, he says, and though he wasn't involved in high-school extracurriculars, there was Geography Club, "which I captained for many years and took many awards." He lists the books he brought from his Miami home-works by Jorgé Luis Borges, Edward O. Wilson's Consilience, the Penguin History of the World ("it's the book I always take to the doctor's office"). Suddenly he interrupts himself: "CDs. My CDs are probably important to mention." The grand old men of his music collection include Frank Zappa and the Beatles-late Beatles-whom he admires for their musical complexity and lyrics.

Though Grenier admits to feeling mired in this quarter's Hum core, calculus, and chemistry coursework, he looks forward to enrolling in biology. Torn between evolutionary biology and history for a concentration, Grenier says, "I always had a talent for history, but I think studying human evolution is probably the most important way I could advance my understanding of the world."

Aside from recent purchases from the annual Reynolds Club poster sale (a Japanese print and a Hiëronymus Bosch, both selected for their interesting use of color), he's tacked up a National Geographic map of the languages of the world. "I find something new each time I look at it," he explains.

Any regrets so far? Only the Hostess cupcakes on his bookshelf-which seemed appetizing until he read the fine print for the first time: beef fat. Now he snacks on tuna from the can. "It's very nutritious and economical."

John Scott-Railton
Ann Arbor, Michigan
Chamberlin House, Burton-Judson Courts

PHOTO:  A new Chicago sevenJohn Scott-Railton is in his blue period. Among his first excursions in Chicago was a visit to the Art Institute, where he purchased the Picasso reproductions now hanging on his walls. They join the Van Gogh above his desk, a constant presence-"a sort of pied à terre"-in the various rooms he's occupied in recent years, including the one in Paris during his junior year at the École Massillon. Other comforts from home: The Blackwell Companion to Philosophy ("something of a bible"), Diderot's Encyclopedia, John Stuart Mill's Utilitarianism.

As for the bicycle helmet, he quickly notes: "I don't normally put things on my floor, but I thought it-and the pen in my hand-would be appropriate. Both were a conscious gesture toward the future and all I hope to write and think about. And I should explain: I do much of my thinking while biking."

Although Scott-Railton lives in a coveted BJ single, his experience of Chicago has hardly been the solitary life. "It's had a great effect on me to be around all these other students," he says. "I know it sounds like a cliché, but I've learned more from the students here than everywhere else I've been. Everywhere. I don't think of it as friendships, so much as comrades in arms or colleagues. I mean, you can be having a conversation about Plato when you brush your teeth! I expected it to be like this only in the way one expects something without having experienced it."

He thrills at the horizons widening around him and the person he will eventually become. "It's less a question of inventing myself through interactions," he says, "than interacting however I see fit and getting an identity through that, creating something without knowing what it is yet."

Quan Le
Los Angeles
Fallers House, Shoreland Hall

Quan Le moved from Echo Park, "five minutes from downtown, Chinatown, and Dodger stadium," to what's known as the "Party Room"-a three-room Shoreland suite where he lives with three other men and where first-years congregate like parrots in Hyde Park crab-apple trees.

"I love my living space," he says. "All my roommates are great. I have to admit that they're different, but that's expected. I just have to learn to live with them." It's a diverse-Le says "sitcom-like"-group: T. J., from California, is half black. José, from Boston, is half Hispanic. Ryan is the white guy from suburban Minnesota, and Le is Vietnamese.

A member of the Buddhist Association, Vietnamese Student Association, volleyball club, and Habeas Corpus and a Jeet Kun Do martial arts practitioner, Le hopes to improve his logic skills at Chicago, possibly concentrating in philosophy and religion "and/or" English and eventually attending law school.

"The one thing I worry about is staying in college. I'm so afraid that I won't be able to handle the workload and just drop out," he says, pointing out that he is paying his own way through the College. "I think I still feel that I don't quite belong here at the U of C. That the only reason why I got into this University was because they lacked a Vietnamese population. If the Office of Admission is right 99.9 percent of the time, I would be the 0.1 percent that they made a mistake on. But in the end, I don't really care. I'm a believer in fate, and wherever fate takes me I will follow."

In the meantime he plans to continue enjoying ramen noodles in his room ("13 cents each!"), the sweet-and-sour chicken at Burton-Judson, and baseball-"simple old fun baseball."

Stephanie Maras
Flint House, Woodward Court

PHOTO:  A new Chicago sevenStephanie Maras has had stars in her eyes since she was old enough to read-one reason she came to the U of C: to study astrophysics. Her lifelong cosmic inspiration? National Geographic.

"Granted it's a pretty glossy, idealistic view of the world on whole," says the secretary of the Ryerson Astronomical Society and daughter of a Chicago police officer, "but its pictures and descriptions allowed me to have some sort of glimpse into what was going on in the world beyond my humble, South Side bungalow. The cultures and peoples I was able to come into contact with are innumerable and made the world just a little smaller."

Represented on her walls are Winston Churchill, Billie Holiday, Van Gogh, the Velvet Underground, and Wrigley Field. By way of explanation she professes a deep interest in British history and an admiration for artists "able to render emotion purely and passionately through their chosen art forms. I love Billie Holiday's voice-it's so heart-wrenching and electric. Lou Reed runs the gamut of emotion through each song; it's gorgeous to hear."

Things she's glad she brought along: licorice (her favorite candy) and Russian lacquer boxes and dolls ("I was first exposed to Russian culture and history in National Geographic, and I've been in love with it ever since"). What she regrets bringing: "a disgusting, 50-pack of popcorn. My aunt made me bring it under the premise that I would be able to 'snare' friends if I made popcorn and shared." No need. The first friend she made at Chicago, she says, "had the misfortune of sitting next to my aunt at the orientation speech on move-in day. My aunt chatted with her incessantly and introduced me. She turned out to live in my house."

Molly Schranz
New York City

Flint House, Woodward

PHOTO:  A new Chicago sevenMolly Schranz's e-mail to the Magazine is friendly and to the point.

"Hi," she writes. "I'm from New York City and attended a Jewish high school there called Ramaz. In high school I was editor of the literary magazine and president of the literary club.

"As far as extracurricular activities in college, I am looking forward to checking out the literary magazine, the radio station (WHPK), and watching a lot of movies at Doc. I plan on concentrating in English.

"On my walls I have some pictures of my friends and family, a picture I took of my apartment building, some pictures I ripped out of the New York Times travel section (from a cover article on Antarctica. I like that there are these landscapes with more penguins than people. Also a photograph of these dinosaur sculptures they have along the highway in California), a Mary Cassatt postcard, a poster of the movie The Wide Blue Road, and a page from a graphic novel by Jessica Abel (U of Chicago alumna) that I printed off the Internet.

"Some of the books I brought with me were a collection of stories by Delmore Schwartz, my small Faulkner collection (Pylon, The Sound and the Fury, Absalom, Absalom!, and As I Lay Dying), The Crying of Lot 49, Jude the Obscure, Nightwood, Ghostworld, and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.

"All of my books for this quarter seem both interesting and daunting. I am looking forward to reading a lot of poems from the huge Norton anthology of poetry.

"My roommate is from Chicago. She is a really nice person. My favorite food in the dining hall is Cap'n Crunch, when they have it. I don't plan on reinventing myself in college, I just plan on learning a lot."

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