On their honeymoon in 1984, Steve and Caroline Lake did something that lots of tourists do in Boston — they stopped to visit some of the area’s well-known colleges.
Then the honeymoon ended. And the Lakes just kept on visiting colleges.
Twenty-four years later, on trips across the country and occasionally in other countries, the Lakes are still building their vacations around visits to college campuses. On Monday, Steve Lake checked the 500th four-year college off his list, at a ceremony at Our Lady of the Lake University in San Antonio, Texas. (Caroline hasn’t seen quite so many; when they travel, she’ll often sleep in while he hits two or three campuses, then join him later).
“It felt tremendous and a big relief, too,” Lake said after meeting Our Lady of the Lake’s president, Tessa Martinez Pollack at a ceremony. “It’s something I’ve worked on for 24 years and have finally achieved.”
For prospective students and parents taking their rite-of-passage college tours in high school, campus visits can be stressful, with pressure to soak in everything you’ll need to make a critical, life-changing decision. But on most campuses, you don’t have to be a parent or prospective student to take the tour and enjoy the history and scenery. And while campus security has clamped down somewhat in recent years, most remain open and welcoming to visitors to simply walk around, at least outside the buildings.
For Steve Lake, a pit boss at Caesars Palace Casino in Las Vegas, part of the appeal is experiencing something he missed the first time around. His alma mater, now called Concordia University in Montreal, was crammed into a city office building and had no campus whatsoever. Visiting Harvard, MIT, Dartmouth and other New England schools on his honeymoon left him wide-eyed.
“I really missed out on the college experience,” he said. His school “didn’t have any of these walking paths, any greenery. I said, ’From now on when we travel, let’s visit colleges in the vicinity.”’
Caroline agreed, not grasping what she was in for.
The record for one week is 40 campuses, on a trip that started in college-rich Philadelphia and wandered through Pennsylvania west to Pittsburgh. Another trip through the mid-Atlantic states covered 60 in three weeks (and, if that weren’t enough, Lake has also visited all 50 state capitals and 47 Major League baseball stadiums).
Do the math and you’ll figure out the Lakes don’t always stay long at each school. Some of the 500 stops were little more than setting foot on the grounds, looking around, and departing for the next spot.
But typically they’ll stay an hour or more, walking around and often sitting in on a class or attending a sporting event or performance.
“It kind of makes me feel young, like I’ve never left school, like I’ve been in school my whole life,” Steve Lake said. “When I was on a college campus, I didn’t have much of an interest in activities. I just missed out on all these experiences. Now obviously I’m recapturing them to the ’nth’ degree.”
So you might ask what a man who may have visited more college campuses than anyone thinks are the finest.
His list of favorites include several Virginia schools, including UVA and the University of Richmond, as well as Colgate, Princeton and Stanford.
Often he calls ahead, and occasionally the hosts will put him up in the alumni house. He heard about Our Lady of the Lake from a casino customer whom he’d asked about schools to visit. Lake toured the campus and visited Our Lady of the Lake’s chapel, which he said was “one of the most beautiful chapels I’ve seen anywhere on any campus.” He added that he “couldn’t have picked a better place” for his 500th visit. “Everyone we came into contact with was so warm and hospitable,” he said.
After hitting 500, the Lakes plan to keep visiting campuses in places they visit, but they no longer plan to arrange trips simply to add more campuses to the list.
“I am looking forward to it slowing down,” said Caroline, a freelance travel writer. “But all in all we’ve had a lot of fun.”