The Wall Of Memories I Built In College In The '80s

by Aline Weiller
Originally Published: 

“Can I bring this?” I asked my mother as we stood in our driveway, packing the car.

“It’s pretty big. Do you really need it?”

It was August of ’83, and I was off to college. I begged my mother to let me bring that oversized bulletin board with us. It obstructed my father’s view, but ninja-like, I slid it in the way-back regardless. It sat atop varied on-my-own belongings—milk crates for warm sweaters to brave New England winters, my down comforter (purple to match the Holy Cross logo) and a mauve bucket of toiletries. Like a stowaway in the backseat, I cradled my boombox and a Ziploc full of cassette tapes—Flashdance, Synchronicity and Thriller among them. I brimmed with anticipation that day, the first of many in my college journey.

Arriving with a shiny Disc brand camera–which eBay now terms “vintage”–I aimed to capture my young adulthood. Wide-eyed at 18, I yearned to cherish it all. At first, I adorned my bulletin board with photos from home—family, high school outings, my long-distance boyfriend. Then, I started snapping pictures as people entered my dorm room. What started as a running photo shoot and joke became a precious keepsake for me over time. Those pictures had the power to harness time, to encapsulate signature moments, which was so important to me even back then.

“You can’t come in unless I take your picture,” I’d say to dorm room visitors. Both strangers and friends humored me by striking a pose. I remain grateful to them.

The bulletin board began filling out, showcasing new faces with only a tad of cork peeking through in between. I named it The Wall. It became a status symbol of sorts, a silly seal of approval. Everybody wanted to make The Wall. Though a poor man’s Facebook, The Wall was a collage of memories, an enduring archive of my college life. That summer, I spent my savings developing my remaining used film and relishing the results.

The Wall was a historian, evidence of our early Madonna-inspired wardrobes and collective hijinks. It captured us driving from Worcester, Massachusetts, to Manhattan in a storm for a Neil Young concert on a Tuesday night, then sleeping in my friend’s car; the tailgate party when we lost my friend, Susie, for an entire weekend, only to find her at a local college making new pals; and of course, our booze cruise outing senior week, where I met a classmate who became my future boyfriend, along with so much more. Had The Wall been able to speak, I might have offered it hush money.

Three years ago, a classmate sent an e-mail requesting college photos for our milestone 25th reunion; she hoped to craft a slide show. I sent her 60 pictures. I’d unearthed them during a power outage when devoid of electronics and in need of a project. Selecting pictures from sticky pages, I smiled and relived each episode. College was indeed a four-year sleepover. I chose photos of toga parties, first dates, quad gatherings, school dances, roommates and Halloweens past. I peeled pictures of early friendships that didn’t fare all four years and those of lasting relationships. I even picked some of students I didn’t know, caught in campus candids.

Set to ’80s rock, the reunion slide show delivered. It was The Wall in motion. One particular shot spoke to resilience—it was of the class couple, all smiles freshman year. They married and had both survived serious illnesses since but rallied in remission to attend the reunion. Another was a photo of the Blind Date Ball, when my roommate set me up with a freshman named Jim who has since died. My dark hair was French-braided into a bun, I sported a shoulder-padded silk dress, and my date and I were arm in arm with bunkbeds as our back drop. There were pictures of favorite Jesuits and professors threaded amid a joyful medley of graduation. The last image was that of campus at sundown—one I’d bought at a yearbook clearance sale, my very last week at school.

With each shot, the room was moved. Some pictures brought wistful sighs. Others drew bursts of laughter. We joked about our youthful faces, our moussed high hair and stone-washed jeans. The totally awesome ’80s lived up to their reputation. The Wall’s contents wowed the room, and the slideshow even graced YouTube.

My friends and I reminisced about The Wall well into reunion night. We spoke of our college antics and younger selves. In a time when photos can easily be doctored or deleted, I’m grateful for my Disc camera, the printed proof of our shared coming-of-age and my ever-willingness to say cheese.

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