In contrast to BYU, my alma mater nestled in the mountains and bordered by stately neighborhoods, OLLU, my graduate school, is in a rough part of town. Here on the south side, San Antonio's dinginess is covered in peeling layers of brightly-colored paint. Whereas time has added softness and dignity to the neighborhoods adjacent to BYU, the houses and buildings around my graduate school have sagged under the weight of decades. Mesh and bars, often in cheerful reds and yellows, are layered over the doors and windows of businesses and residences alike. Advertising is different here: the billboards are in Spanish, and the businesses loudly announce their wares and specials in vibrant block letters painted on the sides of their shops. Even the branch of the local chain grocery store is painted in garish hues and proclaims itself a "mercado." New graffiti appears almost nightly, and the streets teem with mangy, collarless dogs and stray cats. It's a different world here.
Our Lady of the Lake University sits in the middle of this neighborhood, the convent's spire rising out of the collection of surrounding houses. Looking past the scaffolding that branches like ivy around Main, the shell of the building that burned two years ago, the University's facade is beautiful, even impressive, with its castle-like towers and cream colored stone. The library, across the street, is contemporary but consistent with the old style of the campus with its large, arching gothic windows and transepted layout. A long, thin lake borders the north side of campus. It serves as a sanctuary for myriad birds; ducks and geese and sometimes swans socialize along its banks, with an occasional brave soul venturing on webbed feet across campus. A tree on a lone island just off the shore houses scores of beautiful white birds during nesting season.
The modest quad is perpetually shaded by the sprawling canopies of several mature oaks. Sunlight filters through the leaves during the day, and the breeze carpets the bare concrete with shifting patterns of shadow and skittering leaves. The campus is speckled with statues of Mary and saints; they are often draped with silk flowers and tucked away in surprising corners.
It really is a beautiful place, a peaceful place, though I rarely venture out of my rundown building at the edge of campus to enjoy the atmosphere. And while it wasn't even on my radar as a potential grad school two years ago, I'm glad I came here. So, though I can't call it benevolent mother--my alma mater will always and forever be BYU, where I grew into myself--OLLU has been, in turns, annoying younger sister and wise friend, the place I reached out of myself.