Long story short: SFU is more beautiful than you think

“Honestly, I had always judged SFU for its lack of obvious beauty and neglected to recognize it for the hidden gems within.”

Image credit Tiffany Chan

By: Jennifer Low

When I first applied to SFU, I thought the school’s mascot was a bulldog. It was the general consensus amongst those of my friends who were already attending, and it seemed more likely to be a school mascot than Terry Fox. It was only when I had been attending university for two months that I finally got curious enough to Google my new school mascot. “What do you mean your mascot’s name is McFogg the Dog?” I heard from my Thunderbird relatives, and how could I not agree that we were just asking to be picked on as a clan of kilt wearing, moustached Scottish terriers.

In my two years of university, I’ve almost never heard anyone say anything positive about SFU. It’s slander day in and day out, and the most troubling thing? It’s always SFU students who are dishing out the negativity. “SFU is a prison,” they say. “What are you in here for?” But really, it’s hypocritical to complain about a lack of school community when you make no effort to build one.

I used to be like that. When others asked me what the greatest thing about attending SFU was, I always gave some half-joking answer about never having to walk through the rain to get to class, and then fell silent. It was that silence that made me wonder why I had nothing else to say.

Perhaps I had contributed to the jokes about SFU’s concrete structures and twisty, dark hallways, but I honestly never thought of SFU as a bad place. It wasn’t always a dismal, cloudy institution that was practically a ghost town after 4 p.m., but it wasn’t always the glossy front cover of a university advertisement either. It was just somewhere I had to be almost every day for the next few years.

One afternoon, I was walking through the Academic Quadrangle courtyard on the Burnaby campus, just feet from the reflecting pool, on my way to the bus stop. With barely a cloud in sight and the sun glistening against the smooth glassy surface of the water, I had no choice but to stop, take in the crisp mountain air, and look around. I would like to say that this moment was like a scene from a Hollywood movie where I, the main character, had a sudden epiphany that made me change my entire perspective, but alas reality does not deliver on such philosophical moments of enlightenment. In that moment, standing in the AQ Courtyard, I simply wondered how I had walked through the area so many times without stopping to look.

Someone once told me that Los Angeles is the ugliest city: a concrete jungle suffering beneath the sheer weight of its population or from a lack of urban planning, whose one redeeming quality is that it has the most beautiful places. I have come to realize that this is also true of SFU.

Perhaps the discovery of my school pride was only profound because the epiphany didn’t hit me like a bolt of lightning and instead took weeks. From that moment, as the days wore on, I found that every once in a while I would stop and find a scene of remarkable beauty. SFU was not just some ugly piece of concrete: I just hadn’t been paying attention.

Take the walk through the Trottier Observatory and Science Courtyard, for example. It is nothing short of picturesque. Convocation Mall, set aglow with lights and wreaths around Christmas time, is one of my favourite places. Despite the stress of exams, it makes me smile to see groups of SFU students huddled together, caring for that poor soul who has back-to-back exams by bringing them hot chocolate or offering them a free Christmas snack. Another place I love is a window in the depths of Robert C. Brown Hall where you can take a perfect picture of the snowfall that Burnaby Mountain is known for without having to step out in the cold.  

My favourite place by far has to be the rooftop in West Mall, where no matter the weather I can always seem to see both the mountains and the city skyline. That rooftop will always hold special meaning for me as I stumbled across this beautiful place on my first day at SFU, when not even Google Maps knew where I was going. A friend and I snapped a picture on top of that roof and swore that the day we graduated we would return to recreate the photo.

When that happens, I don’t want to be a prisoner desperate to escape the confines of the concrete walls, but someone who is proud to have called SFU home during the course of their degree. Someone who found beauty in a place that is written off for its foreboding exterior.

People still laugh when they hear the name of my school mascot and I still enjoy the occasional joke poking fun at SFU’s architecture, but when anyone asks me what is great about SFU, I am never at a loss for words.