Sentimental Reflections on a Mound of Dirt

Simran Rath ’26 in Features | February 17, 2023

Every day, hordes of Lawrentians embark on the two-way trek across the mud-ridden swamp between the Bunn Library and the Kirby Math and Science Center (KMSC). Why? Whether their stampede features rushing to Noyes or aims to fulfill their intent to finally defeat the KMSC automated doors, they are all subject to witness the crumbling remnants of our past: the Jane W. Irwin Dining Center. 
It is not just the sulphuric fumes from the construction site that bring tears to our eyes, but also the immense cloud of sorrow that looms over the fenced-off piles of…actually, I don’t quite know. What I do know is that Jane is crying somewhere. 
The destruction led to the annihilation of opportunities for Irwin’s once imminent transcendence. Irwin’s future was quite literally crushed before our very eyes. Irwin will never make the Lawrence Township top five on Yelp. Irwin will never rank alongside Michelin Star restaurants. Soon enough, even all Lawrence articles about Irwin’s fate will become irrelevant. By the time future classes of Lawrentians attend our prized establishment, Irwin will exist only as an afterthought. An afterthought!
“What brings me solace is that Irwin lives on in our hearts,” Sophie Bilanin ’26 reflected, “It’s sad to watch such a historic part of our community get torn to shreds.” For Bilanin, the short month she spent in Irwin had a great impact on her overall Lawrenceville experience. “I made my first friends in Irwin. I got to know all of the kids in my grade in that building,” shenoted. 
 Caroline Park ’23 shared similar sentiments, calling Irwin “an integral part of Lawrenceville school culture.” However, Irwin carries a deeper meaning for Park, as her mother, a member of the Class of 1988, dined in Irwin as well. “My mom and her friends used to throw mini boxes of cereal onto the light fixtures in the morning so they could eat them at dinner when the cereal bar was closed,” Park described. “There’s definitely a lot of mixed feelings surrounding all of this.” This would have been a great tradition to continue, except now the Tsai Commons’ light fixtures are 300 feet in the air, and the cereal comes out of lemon-water dispensers. “I really miss the traditions we followed through the pod systems. We used to decorate the pods for House banquets and things like that. We’d bring in banners and close the doors,” Park added,.“What pod are you sitting in? That was always the question that we’d text to our friends.” Even with Tsai’s obnoxious amount of tables—most of which are armed with a “this table is closed” sign—none of them promote House bonding. Instead, the Tsia tables promote themselves. Jane will sob even harder if she finds out that any of you actually scanned the QR code and submitted feedback about your dining experience. 
Maybe the legacy of Irwin does not matter to you. Fine. Maybe your interests lie in architectural aesthetics. Faded bricks are coming back with a vengeance in the construction world—exposed brick is all the rage in New York City lofts—and, for that matter, Lawrenceville’s own GCAD—you know. What a shame that these very bricks are now dilapidated and buried under lumps of wet dirt. Not only was Irwin’s exterior a diamond in the rough, but the interior was just as underrated. So what if it needed a little TLC? The meaningfulness of that building alone was enough to lure hundreds of students into its loving arms day after day. Every oatmeal stain on the Irwin carpet carries a memory, each glass of chocolate milk (and pass-o-guava, if that’s your thing) brought a moment of joy to our dear student body, and the chorus of “oh yeah there’s no one sitting here” welcomed us all into this shared space. Just because Irwin doesn’t look as pretty as Tsai during campus tours does not mean it is of any lesser significance. I am without a doubt that Mrs. Pat Mackinnon and her pals in Mackenzie would very much agree. 
In saying this, one must not neglect the value that Tsai brings to the table (get it?). With its gleaming wok bar and pretentious amount of utensil locations, Tsai has been branded as a significant upgrade. However, these aspects are purely material, and they neglect the sentimental value that Irwin provided to us all. We must acknowledge Tsai for what it will always be: a (not too bad) replacement. While it is sad to see Irwin torn to shreds, there is no denying that we have moved on to a new chapter of Lawrenceville's dining history. Once the “larger wok bar” propaganda nonsense is shoved aside, Tsai is such a beautiful opportunity for us to treasure and for prospective students to adore in the future.