MENOMONEE FALLS, WI–Chris Knopecke, a senior at Menomonee Falls High School, declared the University of Wisconsin at Whitewater "awesome" Monday, describing his weekend visit to the school as "so unbelievably cool."
"UW–Whitewater is the most amazing place," said Knopecke, who has decided to attend the school in the fall. "Right in the middle of campus, there's this big lawn where tons of people were just hanging out together. And there was this guy on the sidewalk selling sunglasses and those Mexican-poncho things. I cannot wait to get out of stupid Menomonee Falls."
Living less than 40 miles from Whitewater, Knopecke had long heard rumors about parties involving alcohol and even marijuana at the school, but he was hardly prepared for the vast cultural spectrum he would encounter during his visit.
"There was someone from Minnesota on my campus tour with me, and there was a black guy, too," Knopecke said. "Then, at one point, this guy with blue hair walked by, and no one was even giving him a second look. I am so looking forward to being at a school where everyone isn't exactly the same."
According to Knopecke, UW–Whitewater features a building called the University Center–"U.C." for those in the know–where students can buy books, join campus organizations, and enjoy live music.
"Every Wednesday, they have an open-mic night down in the U.C. basement, just like on MTV Unplugged," Knopecke said. "The basement's the coolest: It's like a bar, with pool tables and dartboards, only you don't have to be 21 to get in. That's definitely gonna be one of my main hangouts come September."
Knopecke has also made up his mind regarding housing.
"I'm totally going to live in Bigelow Hall," Knopecke said. "They let the students paint the hallways, so everywhere you look, there are these huge murals of all sorts of cool stuff, like Pink Floyd album covers and that Cuban guy with the beret. There's also a computer center that's open 24 hours a day. On top of that, there's a study lounge on each floor where you can go if you need to cram for a test and don't want to be distracted by your roommate or whatever."
As impressed as he was with the school, Knopecke was equally wowed by the city of Whitewater itself.
"You should see University Avenue," Knopecke said. "There's about three different record stores, including this unbelievable one called CD Wherehouse. It's got everything: I looked under R.E.M., and they had almost every album by them. They even had an entire section of rap music. Just as amazing, though, is this other store, The CD X-change, where you can buy used CDs for, like, half the price of new ones. I'm gonna be there all the time."
In addition to record stores, Knopecke reported that Whitewater boasts a video arcade, two bookstores, a pizzeria that delivers until 1 a.m., an army-navy surplus store that sells "real" cargo pants, and a card-and-novelty shop with a glass case in the back containing drug paraphernalia.
Knopecke said he plans to broaden his horizons beyond mere "book learning" at Whitewater by delving into the town's cultural offerings.
"All over campus, there are kiosks covered with posters for plays and concerts and all these really weird-looking movies," said Knopecke, reaching into his backpack and producing a tattered Xeroxed flyer for a UWW Film Club showing of Brazil. "And right in front of the student union, there was even a bunch of girls setting up a booth to protest some library user fee. Isn't that awesome?"
"I'm going to have so much more in common with the women at UW-Whitewater," Knopecke added. "Girls in my high school don't even know who Bob Dylan is."
Knopecke admitted that he sometimes feels like an outcast in his graduating class of 75.
"Around here, when I tell someone that I read On The Road just because I wanted to, not because it was assigned for some class, they look at me like I'm crazy," Knopecke said. "It's gonna be so great to be someplace where people are intellectually on my level."
Stuart Wilmot, Knopecke's high-school guidance counselor, applauded his decision.
"For a lot of kids around here, the only goal is to graduate from high school and get a good-paying job at the Oscar Mayer plant so that they can buy a new truck," Wilmot said. "That's not the case with Chris. He'll leave town for four years and get a psychology degree at Whitewater before coming back and working at the Oscar Mayer plant."