Goodbye Gaines and Graham-Lees, my old friends


There is nothing like living on a hall with 20 other people. Photo provided by Annalisa Waddick, ’23

Annalisa Waddick, Opinions Editor

There are a lot of things that have changed over the course of my four years at Washington and Lee University: the availability of a waffle maker in D-Hall, common room capacity limits, the confidence with which I wear a pair of overalls around campus – just to name a few.
But one thing which has never changed is my chaotic, nuanced, sibling-like relationship with first-year dormitories.
I’ve spent all four of my years at Washington and Lee living in one dorm or the other. Two years at Graham-Lees (freshman and junior year), two years at Gaines (sophomore and senior years), all a part of my role as a resident advisor (or RA) on Washington and Lee ResLife, a.k.a. the greatest team in the world.
Last weekend, I spent my last nights in the dorm, at least while occupied with other people, as I am currently studying abroad in Vienna to take full advantage of my last spring term. Saying teary goodbyes to all my underclassmen friends and residents made me realize that I had one last goodbye to give after all these years: Gaines and Graham-Lees.
Earlier, I described my relationship with the dorms as sibling-like, and I’m sticking to this simile. At first, I was toying with the idea of calling our relationship a “torrid, messy love affair” given all the ups and downs, but I realized this glamorized the dorm life (or #DormLife) far too much, given the amount of vomit I deal with on a weekly basis.
Here’s the truth: living in dorms for years sucks.
They are isolating, occasionally gross, and continually loud. But that’s not their entire story either, because just like siblings, I love them as much as they drive me out of my mind (shoutout to my sister, Emily!). For every moment they’re isolating, they’re also full of love, support, and community. For every moment they’re gross, I’m reminded they are cleaned regularly by professionals who are sweeter than tea. For every moment they’re loud, I remember that it’s the people I’ve come to adore making the noise.
If you’ve ever read one of my articles before, you might know that I love sticking up for the things I believe need sticking up for – whether that be E-Hall dining, students, or masks in the COVID-19 era. It’s become sort of my niche in a way, and writing one last rebuttal feels right for my last article with the Ring-tum Phi. However, writing an article gushing about my love for the dorms would be a lie, given all the reasons described above, and so I figured that a balanced mix of love stories and horror stories would be the best way to say goodbye to my old friends. A bit of a “let’s tell stories around the campfire on our last night at summer camp” feel, if you will.
So on that note, here are some of the things I’m going to miss – and really not miss – about dorm living…

  • The people: I would be crazy if this wistful reminiscing didn’t start with my fellow dormers, the people who make it all worthwhile. Every year of my college experience I have been incredibly lucky to live amongst wonderful people, many of whom have grown into very dear friends. There is nothing like living on a hall with 20 other people in college, and there’s truly nothing like doing it four times. Each year kept getting better and better, and to my hallmates this year I am especially grateful. They provided me with a community that – while chaotic, high-energy, and exasperating – also created a living environment full of support and happiness unlike anything I’ve ever known.
  • The vomit: I can love my residents and simultaneously abhor their 18-year-old lack of capacity to hold their liquor. Due to my emetophobia, vomit ranks #1 on this list of things I’m ready to leave far, far behind. I’ve seen people throw up on themselves, the floor, the door of the bathroom… and I’ll stop there, because a further description is simply unnecessary.
  • The proximity to campus: While it may require some vomit dodging to get out the door, once I’m there, either dorm is a mere two minute walk from campus, dining options, and my classes. As someone constantly late and constantly in a rush, this has become one of my favorite parts of living in the dorms. I’ve never had to hike all the way from an upper third-year apartment to the Center for Global Learning in the freezing cold rain of a Monday morning, and I will always be grateful for that.
  • The bathroom: Sunday nights in the girl’s bathroom are a nightmare. Fat, wet clumps of hair in the shower. Chunks of unknown substances in the sink. No paper towels. Sometimes, no toilet paper. Water on the floor. Germs everywhere. It’s anyone’s (and everyone’s) nightmare.
  • The bathroom (again): This one’s a double edged sword, because when Monday morning rolls around, this one now flips to the “pros” side of the list instead of the “cons.” No hair in sight. Sparkling clean sinks. Full rolls of paper towels and toilet paper, which – very importantly –  I did not have to pay for myself. (Man, that stuff is expensive!) Freshly-mopped floors. Cloroxed countertops. All this hard, time-consuming work is done by facilities and maintenance workers (thank you to Rose and Ricardo!) five days a week, and it’s because of them that I’ve yet to clean my own college bathroom like the little princess I am.
  • The price: My compensation for my job is my comped room and board; I sell my soul to ResLife, and in return, I don’t have to pay an electricity bill. In terms of simple rent this is amazing, but it’s also amazing in other, subtler ways. I have unlimited access to hot water that I never have to pay for. I keep my room at 71 degrees in the winter because it’s incredibly comfortable, I do a lot for the environment to compensate, and it doesn’t break my bank account to do so. I have fast, free wifi that always works. I don’t have to worry about paying for trash and recycling services, and like the best apartments, I even have free access to the gym!
  • The isolation: Transparently, the isolation born of dorm living can be brutal. This was especially the case during the 2020-2021 academic year, when COVID-19 restrictions meant that everyone was confined to their own living spaces. For the good part of a year, I was unable to visit my friends in Woods Creek to do even the most mundane of things, and while this memory is now several years in the past, it is one that still haunts me like a little ghost.
  • The people (again): Being an RA is one of the few jobs where you live with your coworkers, joining the elite list along with camp counselors and cruise workers. For three years in a row now, this proximity has gifted me not just a friend, but a friend for life. (Too cheesy? I don’t care.) There’s an intimacy to these RA-RA friendships that are expedited by proximity, shared exasperation, and a general we’re-all-in-this-together vibe reminiscent of High School Musical. The best, most wonderfully serindipidous thing to happen to me this year was my friendship with my co-RA, and this connection was born from the dorm.

In a few months I’ll be moving into my first apartment, and I’m complicatedly both happy and sad about it. Change is exhausting and in some ways I don’t feel ready to leave, but I’m also incredibly excited for these next years of my life.
So goodbye Graham-Lees. Goodbye Gaines. Thanks for all the memories.