Sweet Cinnamon

    How a breakfast roll led me to academic enlightenment

    By Marty Chan, ’90 BA(Spec) on August 18, 2017

    As a struggling first-year engineering student, I felt like Cousin Oliver from The Brady Bunch — destined to disappear.

    At the orientation assembly in Myer Horowitz Theatre, the dean of engineering instructed the first-year students to look at the people to their left and to their right, then warned that one of us would not be in the faculty by the year’s end. Everyone seemed to be staring at me. My only solace was the sticky sweet cinnamon buns that awaited me in the Central Academic Building’s basement cafeteria.

    CAB’s ’70s decor further made me feel like a visitor to the Brady household as I descended the brown tile steps. I elbowed hungry students out of the way so I could get the freshly baked pastries. My life revolved around the legendary treat. I slathered the warm bun with three packets of butter, then sat back to watch the melted butter seep into the swirls and fuse with the cinnamon. Ah, the nectar of the gods.

    The cafeteria became my sanctuary. When I failed my first statics assignment, I detoured under the CAB pedway to catch a whiff of the cinnamon buns baking in the morning. I chose a study carrel in Cameron Library to be close to the cafeteria in case I needed a break from deciphering my physics textbook.

    By the end of the year, I realized I was actually more like Marcia Brady, and engineering was the football that broke my nose. I failed almost all of my courses. The only class I excelled in was an English elective. I loved the class and the opportunity to write, but one decent grade wasn’t enough to stop me from getting the dean’s vacation.

    I trudged to my haven and bought what I believed might be my last cinnamon bun, sat down at a table and contemplated my future. As I gazed at the butter melting into the swirls, I considered my obsession with the treat and how I rearranged my morning schedule to get a cinnamon bun before noon and how I chose study locations near the cafeteria.

    It dawned on me that if I could make an effort for a cinnamon bun, maybe I could do the same for my life. I needed to find a vocation I loved as much as the cinnamon bun, and I realized my other passion was writing. I vowed to return to the U of A and major in English. I could almost hear Peter Brady singing Time to Change as I ascended the steps out of the cafeteria.

    One year later, I was hard at work in the Humanities Centre, studying literature. The workload seemed lighter even though the number of courses hadn’t changed. I loved my classes even though they were far away from my beloved CAB cafeteria. And by the year’s end, I made the dean’s honour list. To celebrate I trekked to CAB and treated myself to the cinnamon buns that changed my life.