It was 6 a.m. when President Samuel J. Stanley Jr. awoke to the loud drone of a jackhammer. He lay on his back, sore from the stiff mattress, and stared at the ceiling. The white paint was peeling. “Where am I,” Stanley asked, lifting his head to see a tiny room enclosed by four unfamiliar walls. The air smelled of mildew. Outside, the jackhammer continued its loud whine.
Stanley stood, his back aching and his head throbbing, and went to the window. The view looked out onto the construction on Toll Drive. That’s when the tired man realized where he was, the exuberant words he had spoken yesterday resurfacing in his mind.
“I will spend the weekend in a Stony Brook dorm room,” he had said at the press conference. “Our faculty does everything we can to truly understand what our students go through. As the president of the university, I’m no exception. I’ve linked arms with students recognizing the University of Missouri protests. I’ve gotten my flu vaccination from SHAC. I’ve taken a selfie with Hermione.” He let out a sigh of fond remembrance. “The point is that I always try to be as close to the students as possible.”
In the spirit of atonement, a handful of students who had been placed in overcrowded dorms would stay at President Stanley’s residence, the Sunwood Estate, for the weekend.
“Am I worried?” Stanley laughed in response to a reporter’s inquiry. “People seem to forget that I lived in a dorm once. At Harvard.” He stared obliviously at the crowd with a smile and raised eyebrows. “I have no doubt that this will be a great experience for all involved,” he said with the steadfast enthusiasm of an infomercial. “I can’t wait to see what happens.”
But one day later, as he stood in the narrow confines of the small, colorless dorm, Stanley’s optimism had waned. He could not help but feel dethroned as his kingdom of concrete had been taken from him. The hum of construction noise was beginning to eat away at his sanity. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw what looked like a roach. He sat on the edge of the bed and let his head fall into his hands.
Sam Stanley wanted to go home.
The 8,300-square-foot Sunwood Estate is situated on 26 acres overlooking the Long Island Sound. Inside, the lucky students chosen for the residence swap were reenacting their favorite scenes from The Great Gatsby. Meticulously pressed shirts were tossed in the air, a cacophony resounded from the piano, and the bar was in full swing. They lounged comfortably in the central air system; no longer did they have to rely on a breeze of mist from the fountain in the academic mall for refreshment. On the lawn they tossed Frisbees and footballs, their usual backdrop of the Staller steps replaced with the view of the Long Island Sound. As the fresh salty air filled their lungs, for the first time, it felt good to be a Seawolf.
The students were, however, disappointed to learn that the only food available in the kitchen were egg whites, chicken, cashews and a variety of interesting sauces.
Back in the dorm, Stanley was trying to part his hair, an intricate daily ritual. Today it was further complicated by the bathroom mirror being too small for him to adequately view himself. Earlier he had looked in the shower, but the sight of mold growing on the tile was too disgusting for him to even consider using it. He picked up his Stony Brook pin and tried pinning it to his lapel, as he has done everyday for the past 7 years, but kept accidentally pricking himself. He gave up and went to his desk.
He tried using his laptop, but was unable to connect to WolfieNet. “You Are Not Connected to the Internet,” his screen displayed mockingly. Cut off from the rest of his life, Stanley felt imprisoned. He had lost the bounce in this step, the twinkle in his eye. “I need to get out of here,” he thought. But where could he go? Where would the scornful eye of those who knew he failed not follow him? No, he would tough it out. After all, it was only one more day.
Just then the jackhammer started up again. Sam Stanley gathered his belongings and hurried across campus to the Hilton Garden Inn Hotel.