In the movie Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, there is the iconic scene where the golden ticket kids step into the factory for the first time and have their minds blown. Judging from the four-foot entrance door that led into the gigantic space, all of them thought they were being sold short of the real experience. I had a similar experience earlier this month when I went to the Chicago Scholars office in the Loop for the first time. Perched up on one of the top floors of a corporate building, I expected a space with a few offices and a sitting area or two. What I got was an experience that reminded me just how close CS is to me, both physically and symbolically.
I went to the office for a student open house hosted by Team Lift, CS’ college success team. It was smack dab in the middle of final exam season, and it was a chance for College Scholars to stop in, have a snack, get a tour of the office, and take a break from the stress from finals. When I got off the elevator on the 7th floor, I expected the open house itself to be front and center without much depth to walk around and explore. Oh, how I was proven wrong during the tour.
It took me two or three hallway turns and a walk into the wrong room just to find everyone. When I walked in, the environment and tone was clear right off the bat. The office was welcoming, and when I say that, I don’t mean welcoming me for the first time. I mean “welcoming me back” as if I had been there a thousand times.
One thing that was exciting for me was that I could finally put names to faces. The office team was so friendly and great at sparking conversation that it almost became impossible not to recognize voices and names. “Oh, you are the person that sends out Lift emails!”, “No way! You’re the person that called me about a summer internship opportunity!” It was like a family reunion years and years after the last gathering. And speaking of family reunion, it was the very first chance that I got to meet scholars from my CS class of ‘26 outside of Zoom screens!
The thing that really highlighted the experience was being able to meet Jeffrey Beckham Jr., the CEO of Chicago Scholars. Yes, the CEO stopped by to say hello during the tour. And like the rest of the team, the positive energy radiated through the man in charge. He asked about our schools, majors, whether we needed anything, and reminded us that he’s always someone we can reach out to.
Before the open house, I hadn’t seen nor met the team or the office, but there wasn’t a second I felt uncomfortable or uneasy. Alexis, Alicia, Amy, Alexandra, and Yasmine did a great job reminding me that CS’ doors are always open, anytime.