Personal stories of growth at Eckerd College

Christa Exter (Class of 1991)

It's not the same "SAGA"

I'm at President Armacost's house, the day before graduation, 1991. The sun is shining. Fellow graduates play volleyball in the pool, mingle with family members, or stand on the boat dock jutting out into Boca Ciega Bay.

My friend Kris and I chat on the lanai. Kris looks at the cafeteria-catered spread. "I'm so glad the semester is over. Otherwise, I'd be looking at these leftovers tomorrow." Right then a man walks up to us. He asks me about my Eckerd experience.

I rattle off a long litany of complaints, especially about SAGA, the school cafeteria. Did you know, I asked him, that Eckerd's cafeteria scored near the bottom of the list compared to other colleges? I knew this because a friend, who had visited Eckerd and sampled the Saga fare, forwarded me the article. I tell him how the boxes at the back of the building have "Grade D: Fit for Human Consumption" on them. I tell him how Grade D is one level above prison food (or so I was told back then. All I knew is that my taste buds hadn't lied.) I tell him how countless Eckerd students had gotten serious cases of food poisoning over the years. I tell him how the cafeteria recycles food.

The recycling went something like this:

- Go to a Saga-catered event (whether it was on or off campus was irrelevant).

- See the same food appear the next day in the salad bar.

- Watch unsuspecting fellow students ingest said recycled food.

- Hear the next day how said unsuspecting fellow students spent the night alternating between abdominal cramps and vomiting.

For health reasons, it became imperative to either a) attend all SAGA catered events, so you could successfully avoid recycled foods or b) stick to the safe stuff like cereal and buttered toast or c) not eat at SAGA at all. (Sorry Mom and Dad.)

Fresh fruit wasn't really fresh. It was disguised as fresh in a lemon juice bath.

The man listened attentively, then thanked me and walked away. Kris said, "Do you know who that was?"

"No," I replied.

"John Galbraith."

The name didn't register with me.

"He just donated four million dollars to the school."

I watched his receding back as he disappeared into the poolside crowd. One word came to mind, "Oops."

The next day I was surprised and a little mortified to see Mr. Galbraith on the presentation podium. I smiled at him as he handed me my diploma. He tilted his head to read the words, "Equal Pay," on my sleeve.

Back in Massachusetts I was met with nothing close to equal pay. I was met with a recession. Incredibly, I got a job. It was due to my Eckerd-honed German language skills - thank you Ken Keeton and Helmut Kreitz. (You are both very much missed!) I paid off my student loans and moved to Europe.

While living in Germany I received a college newsletter. In it was an article about renovating the cafeteria. A million dollars was to be spent upgrading the facility.

That's fantastic, I thought. I wish we had that kind of service when I ate there. It took me a moment to make the connection. I wondered. Had my conversation with John Galbraith galvanized him into action?

A few years later I got to experience the new "SAGA" firsthand. I was amazed at the veritable cornucopia of choices. Should I have a fresh fruit smoothie, made as I watched? Or an omelet for which I chose the ingredients? I wasn't going to pass up a glass of freshly squeezed OJ - the oranges rolling down the machine chute in front of me.

Did my one-sided diatribe make a difference? I don't know.

But if it did, thank you.

And to the students there now, you're welcome.