Welcome to AJ’s Café

Written by Dietrich Balsbaugh

It’s 9:50 a.m. on Friday, and you just got out of your first class of the day. You woke up a little bit late that morning, so you didn’t have time to grab a bite to eat before class. You decide to head over to AJ’s Café, located in the student union, to get one of their famed breakfast sandwiches.

You walk into the café and approach the counter, the faint smell of onion rings rising from the kitchen, while the chatter of friends sitting at the tables fills your ears. The ice cream to your left looks tempting, but you show restraint (it’s still early in the semester after all) and order one breakfast sandwich on a bagel with cheddar cheese. The student worker running the counter asks you how your day has been so far and you reply in kind, explaining briefly the recent happenings in your calculus class. Then she takes your order to the back, and you turn to face the rest of the café.

Depending on your ability to focus in moderately busy places, AJ’s can be an interesting spot to study, and today is no different. Various study groups work diligently at a round table, while coffee dates, club meetings, and friendly chatter fill the space with that familiar coffee shop white noise.

More than any other study place on campus, AJ’s tends to have the most diverse collection of Hillsdale students. At any given time you could have just about every corner of campus represented. A few Simpson freshmen are joking around one of the sunlit booths with their RA, while behind them several women of Pi Beta Phi prepare for their next chemistry exam. You spot an empty chair at a table and take a seat while you wait for your sandwich, listening to the goings on around you. What you hear reflects almost perfectly the community of learners that you have found at Hillsdale.

“What are you thinking for this essay prompt? I think Hamlet’s going to be tricky to write on because he’s so hard to pin down as a character.

“Yeah–I really like what Dr. Whalen said about him, though. It really humanizes him but also makes his struggles so painful to work around. I wasn’t expecting that from class.”

“I love Dr. Baron so much! Do you know what she said to us today? She looked at each person in the class and told them what color of clothing would go best with their hair color. She’s incredible.”

“Are you going to Concert on the Quad tonight?”

“Can you explain this math homework to me? I really didn’t get it when we covered it in class.”

“I think one good way to think about running this Bible study… ”

You smile. The talk goes on around you, but you’ve just heard your name called by the student worker at the counter. You stand up and walk over to pick up your breakfast sandwich and then head out to study a bit before your next class. As you walk out of the café, a study table bursts into laughter as one of the guys comes up with the craziest mnemonic device for their test.

Hillsdale has lots of different kinds of students, but as you walk out of the union you can’t help but enjoy the reminder of the life Hillsdale students live together. When you stop by AJ’s, you see community in action whether studying, reconnecting, or simply eating ice cream after a long fought Intramural Football victory.


Dietrich BalsbaughDietrich Balsbaugh, ’20, studies English and mathematics. He loves dancing of any kind and playing in any sort of water, particularly if it involves skipping rocks. If you see him on campus, he’s usually talking about fractals, writing, or tossing a frisbee. He doesn’t mind, so be sure to stop and ask him what he’s thinking about.


Published in December 2019