Essay: In newly renovated Thurston Hall, one GW ends and another begins

Ever since hearing the long awaited news of the brand new Thurston Hall renovations, I started looking forward to knocking on my freshman year room – number 722. When I excitedly entered Thurston after its grand reopening and rode the elevator up to the 7th floor, I walked down the hall and passed rooms 720…721…723. I was shocked and thought I must have missed something – I searched in the next hallway, double and triple checking to see if the room numbers were out of order. But to my disappointment, room 722 was gone, a supply closet in its place, erasing the memory of my pre-COVID, pre-renovated Thurston Hall home.

Of course, I knew my old room would not be the same exact living space. The extensive remodeling project features an entirely altered floor plan complete with a stunning courtyard in the center of the building– a reimagined centerpiece to the facility that leaves its original form virtually unrecognizable. But still, I envisioned walking into the room where I once moved in on a hot August day in 2019 alongside other freshmen eager to dive into college. I imagined what the new occupants of my old room would be like – if I would find four girls packed into a far-too-tiny bedroom like myself and my former roommates – how they would decorate, where they would be from, what fields they would study.

Despite only staying in Thurston for about six months until the outbreak of the pandemic, living in the residence hall shaped my GW experience like nothing else. My freshman year was a tumultuous one and in no small part because of Thurston’s notorious black mold poisoning, infamous 2019 fire and overall chaotic character. But Thurston was also the place where I met some of my closest friends to this day.

A quintessential example of the Thurston experience came on a November evening, when I returned home after a closing shift at my retail job in Georgetown only to hear the fire alarm go off about 10 minutes later. Alarms were common in such a large building full of freshmen who triggered the smoke detector with anything from either contraband candles or an overcooked microwave meal, and any evacuation typically lasted only 15 minutes or so. But on this night, a fire triggered a sprinkler system that flooded several rooms on the floor, which displaced residents until the early hours of the morning and about 40 students more for weeks due to the flooding. But don’t worry – we got free pizza in the University Student Center!

Although chaotic events like this were undeniably stressful, inconvenient and raised questions about GW’s facilities management, they also bonded the Class of 2023. The hectic nature of living in Thurston defined our freshman year of college and GW culture as a whole.

Upon entering the remodeled building, the realization sunk in that these new, bright-eyed Thurston freshmen will never experience the mayhem that once came with living in this building. The current seniors are the only remaining students on campus who will ever understand what that experience was like. This year’s freshman class will have their own version of an inevitably hectic first year of college – the photo of a fish in a Thurston communal shower that surfaced during Orientation Week is proof. Their rooms are just as small, if not smaller, as their predecessors, but the structure originally built in 1929 no longer exists in the same way.

The renovation is undeniably a good thing – no student deserves to be exposed to black mold or displaced after a fire damages their room. Yet, this long overdue makeover of Thurston evoked a feeling of personal nostalgia. Seeing the shiny, new building made me realize that my time at GW is coming to an end this year, marked by the fact that my graduating class is the last to know the original Thurston. More than that, the GW I once knew is now a very different place, especially following two and a half semesters of virtual instruction and a campus drained of the life that has since returned in Thurston Hall.

Seeing the new and improved Thurston up close, although exciting and awe-inducing, symbolizes not only a significant change in GW campus culture but also the impending end of my time as a student here. For this reason, I understand that many members of the Class of 2023 may have conflicting opinions about the unveiling of the remodel. GW is continuing to improve and develop, albeit into a campus that drifts further away from the one that first welcomed us as wide-eyed freshmen three years ago.

Despite the seismic shifts in campus culture that seniors have witnessed throughout the past four years, GW is still a place to grow as students and individuals, whether inside the aged building that preceded much of our time here or the fancy new home to the Class of 2026. Incoming freshmen will get to experience the many rewards and challenges of college, too – just hopefully without any black mold poisoning.

Julia Koscelnik, a senior majoring in political science and minoring in journalism and mass communication, is the contributing culture editor.

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