Chicago Seven: The Final Frames
These seven students met the Magazine during their first week in the College—checking in once a year thereafter. Some looked forward to the visits as a chance to find their bearings: “In sailing, before you start a race, you turn your boat directly into the wind and figure out what direction it’s coming from, and then you navigate from there,” John Scott-Railton reflects. At least one never thought about the profiles until we arrived at his door, nor once felt the urge to read about himself afterward. Another remains bothered by the group’s premeditated diversity. “There’s the hometown scholarship girl, the international student, the Asian, the African American. In reality the school is much more monochromatic.”
In the four years since Lloyd DeGrane began shooting the chronicle (see magazine.uchicago.edu/seven), his mainstay, color-transparency film, has become a photographic relic. This year, his processing house closed its doors, and he scrambled to find another.
So, for the last time on film, here are the Chicago Seven.
One of the parts of the U of C that I’ll miss almost all the time is DOC films,” Molly Schranz writes via e-mail from New York City after graduating this past December. “I’m not sure there’s really any other place like it, someplace that shows movies (especially fabulous, rare ones) every night and is ridiculously affordable. I’ll miss programming series, and, even more so, attending them. Other things I’ll miss about Chicago are: my friends, the neat things that go on around the city, and buying cans of Diet Cherry Coke from campus coffee shops. They don’t seem to stock cans of that anywhere else. It’s a shame, really.” Schranz doesn’t think she’s changed much since first year: “My hair is shorter than in the original picture, but I still enjoy Cap’n Crunch, in particular the peanut-butter kind.” In her final photo Schranz stands in the living room of her shared apartment at 57th and Kimbark. Being followed by the Magazine these four years was sometimes disconcerting, she says; she was once contacted by someone she hadn’t seen since high school, who had Googled her and read the profiles online. As for graduating early, the English major explains, “There isn’t much of an exciting explanation there. I had just finished up almost all my classes by senior year.” Still in New York City this summer, Schranz is “working as a DVD production assistant for a really cool distribution company.”
After a firm handshake, John Scott-Railton quickly notes that he isn’t quite the color of a lobster. He spent the third weekend in June competing in the Etchells-22 class of Chicago’s North American Offshore One Design sailing races; the following weekend he plans to compete at nationals, also in Chicago. As the fore-deck person on a crew of three, he explains, he is “either wrangling with a big sail called a spinnaker, or with the jib, or engaging in various gofering activities.” His love of sailing has carried him away from the University and onto locals’ boats. He still lives in the Mies van der Rohe studio he leased last year, and this summer he’s working in two University labs. For psychologist Brian Prendergast, who studies biological clocks and oversaw Scott-Railton’s B.A. project, he is helping puzzle out the development and evolution of the circadian visual system that organisms—in this case, hamsters—use to synchronize their internal rhythms. For Paul Vezina’s psychiatry lab in the Hospitals, Scott-Railton designed an experiment on the neurobiology of addiction. “The brain is addicted to the information that a drug provides,” he says. “I’m trying to understand what that information is.” In the fall he’ll become a full-time University employee and continue the addiction research for a year. The biggest changes these past four years, he says, have occurred outside the College: “Deaths and near deaths in my family, falling in love, almost dying [he fell from the mast of a tall ship two summers ago]. How to be a college student despite these changes going on at the same time—that’s been the hard thing.”
“I’ve changed a lot every quarter,” Quan Le says one May afternoon. “Not just my appearance, but how I’ve thought about things. First and second quarter of first-year was the post-high-school rebellious time: ‘I’m outta high school, outta California, I can do whatever I want.’ That didn’t work out too well.” Third quarter of that year and first quarter of sophomore year were “down time. I went to France. I was figuring out new ways to fit in. When I got back, I accepted that I was at this school. I joined a fraternity. Third year I had my group of friends and my niche. I started looking at paths for life.” That’s when he applied for the Urban Teacher Education Program (UTEP), a 15-month master’s in education course he began this year. Here he met his future fiance, a graduating third-year whom he now rooms with in a tidy, sunny, Hyde Park studio, where lemon thyme and parsley grow on a window sill. “This year has been a good transition to a professional career. I’m living on my own, I have plans for what I’m going to do. Everything came together at the end.” Le will stay in Hyde Park at least another year, teaching small-group summer classes at North Kenwood Oakland (NKO) Charter School, student-teaching there in the fall, and moving to Sawyer Elementary School in January. He began tutoring NKO kids as a first-year, “for the money,” and initially considered teaching only a “pit stop on the way to law school.” But UTEP changed his mind. “I’m committed to teaching as a career,” he says. “It’s a way to give back to the programs that helped me go to college.”
Sitting in the fluttering shade of a locust tree one morning in June, Stephanie Maras looks trim and introspective. She lost the year’s first two quarters to illness and so, after finishing incomplete courses and taking the Common Core biology sequence this summer, she expects to graduate next fall or winter. Watching her friends graduate is, frankly, “terrible,” she says. “I did high school in three years. I’ve always been more accelerated than everyone else, so it feels weird now to be slowed down.” Maras split her time this year between her family’s South Side home and her apartment at 54th and Woodlawn. “I didn’t want to disappear completely,” she explains, “and my friends were really supportive.” After three years in the dormitories, including one as a resident assistant, living in an apartment is “more real,” she says. “Having a private social life is key. In the dorm everything is more accelerated because you’re living on top of each other. Living on your own, you’re less analyzed.” Maras doesn’t feel she’s changed at all since first year, despite giving up on physics and concentrating instead on history. The word she uses to describe herself: consistent. Although it’s difficult for Maras to think beyond her incomplete coursework, she plans to take some time off to work and travel and eventually return to graduate school to focus on Croatia and the Balkans, where she studied and traveled last year.
Julio Chavezmontes estimates that 99 percent of his friends have jobs, most as bankers in Manhattan. Not the life for him: on a sweltering May day, Chavezmontes is eager to get out of Chicago and on a plane to his cousin’s beach house in the Canary Islands, so that he can take a break before starting film school at the Art Institute of Chicago this fall. “It’s slightly more lucrative than history,” he jokes. This year he traded a history B.A. project on 18th-century French journalism before the Revolution—“trying to show the importance of the changing structures of communication and how they were representative of the changes in society”—for a video camera to direct his first short film, a narrative DVD titled The Lotus Eaters. “I will miss my friends when they’ve all gone their own way,” he says. “I won’t miss the library—or finals week, that’s for sure. Some people here were great; others were annoying. I won’t miss the people who raised their hand all the time in class.” Has he changed over these four years? He doesn’t skip a beat: “I’ve become more of a smart-ass.” Then he reflects: “I certainly feel smarter. I feel more mature.”
It took Carlos Grenier a couple of weeks to get used to the trains clanking by his 57th and Lake Park apartment, where he’s lived for two years. “Now it sounds like the ocean,” he says a few days before returning home to Miami. Of the seven students, Grenier is the only one hunting for a job, sending out résumés to biotech firms. “I’m not entirely sure I want to go into the hard sciences in the long term,” says the biology major. “It’s what I’m qualified to do.” Grenier’s honors thesis, overseen by geneticist Bruce Lahn, attempts “to figure out what genes are responsible for human-brain evolution by looking at the genetic sequences of humans and apes.” Most of the work was bioinformatics—poring over public sequenced data—and performed on the PC in his tiny bedroom. Though he says it’s “hard to time travel,” Grenier believes he has changed since his first-year photo shoot. “I feel older, but older than just four years. I feel like I know so much more about the world and myself. I’m comfortable and proud of the person that these past four years have made me.” As he stands for his photo, a train rumbles past.
This summer Ashley White-Stern will produce and direct a political documentary about the Student Tenant Organizing Project (STOP). The University group—of which she is an observer, not a member—received a National Student Activism Award grant from the Ford Foundation to aid Woodlawn residents struggling to preserve their community while developers snatch up land and houses. The DVD documentary, White-Stern explains, asks, “How do you build communities? What forces are involved, institutional and counterinstitutional?” In her daily life she watches the process from her first-floor apartment at 63rd and Ingleside, where she lives with her roommate (Sarah Silk, who painted the portrait at right) and their dog Diamond. Through a large south-facing window, the cinder-block shell of a new building next door is visible, and an empty lot of waving grasses fills the view to the east. After four years at Chicago and a year in Woodlawn, she says, “I’ve experienced a radical change in my personal politics; for example, what it means to be a person of color in the United States today. Chicago has such a rich history. People still talk with emotion about Harold Washington’s death. Walking through Woodlawn and Bronzeville, I have the sense of getting to the party after everyone’s cleared out.” She approaches the world in a different way as well. “I have a strong drive to be academic. To look and learn, to be engaged in a meaningful, reflexive dialogue ends up changing you. I feel lucky to have been reared intellectually at Chicago.” She hopes to complete the film and join her high-school friends in New York City by her 23rd birthday in October. After that? “I’m open to what will happen when I leave the realm of being a student.”