The University of Chicago’s Independent Student Newspaper since 1892

Chicago Maroon

The University of Chicago’s Independent Student Newspaper since 1892

Chicago Maroon

The University of Chicago’s Independent Student Newspaper since 1892

Chicago Maroon

Insights From a Virtual Scrapbook

GRADUATION ISSUE: As a first-year, Makayla MacGregor refocused her high school YouTube channel on college life. Over a hundred videos later, MacGregor has a unique record of her time at UChicago.
Makayla MacGregor
A screenshot from the November 15, 2021 vlog the Maroon reviewed with MacGregor.

Three years and 161 videos ago, the Maroon first wrote about Makayla MacGregor. As a UChicago first-year, MacGregor turned the focus of her high school YouTube channel toward the University of Chicago, her videos covering everything from dorm tours to study tips. The channel also served as a snapshot of ordinary life: the details she noticed as she walked across the quad, what she thought of a class on a particular day, remarks about the food she ate—the everyday monotony of college life.

Now in her fourth year, MacGregor continues to vlog. With over a hundred videos from her time here, MacGregor has a unique perspective—and record—of the personal, professional, and social changes that take place over four years at the University of Chicago.

The Maroon reached out to MacGregor, asking if she could break her usual custom of refraining from rewatching her videos. We asked if MacGregor could look back now on one of her earlier videos and react to it, with the video serving as a sort of time capsule from which changes and insights on the college experience can be determined. MacGregor agreed.

We selected a vlog from the beginning of MacGregor’s second year. (Her first was dominated by COVID.) The vlog, a day-in-the-life video, is intended to be just that—an unfiltered day—as MacGregor explained. “I’m not doing anything exciting.… It’s representative of a very standard day, I think, in my life, and probably the lives [of many] other students here,” MacGregor said.

MacGregor met up with the Maroon at a fifth floor study room in the Reg on a quiet Wednesday morning. As we opened the video and pressed play, MacGregor interjected anxiously, “Oh my gosh, I’m nervous. What am I even going to say?”

One 15-second un-skippable ad later, and our experiment began.



If you’ve ever rewatched your old self on video, you’re probably familiar with the sort of uncanny feeling of hearing your own voice; MacGregor’s case was no different. The video begins with second-year MacGregor narrating her routine over clips of her brushing her teeth, doing her homework, walking to class. MacGregor’s initial reaction was one of discomfort.

“As if people need to know that… oh man,” fourth-year MacGregor reacted as she saw her old self brush her teeth.

Second-year MacGregor continues her vlog, “I wrangled my hair into something. I don’t exactly know what it is, but it was something.”

Fourth-year MacGregor cut in. “Yeah, that’s not changed at all. That’s one thing which is always so uncomfortable with making videos. People can see me in my pajamas—my hair is terrible and everything. And watching back, [I think], ‘Did people need to see that?’”

But even though these moments may not be needed, they say a lot about the style and effect of MacGregor’s videos. Beyond speaking about the University, her videos also establish a more personal connection with the viewer.

“It always feels intimate when I’m [making videos] because it’s just me alone in my room with a phone. So in a manner of speaking, it technically is public speaking, but it doesn’t feel that way at all,” MacGregor said.

MacGregor mentioned that even though she sometimes doubts these decisions of what to include in her videos, this doubt largely goes away when she hears from her viewers.

“I ran into someone this fall who asked to hug me, and it’s funny because I don’t expect that,” MacGregor said. “When I watch and edit my videos, I just feel the flaws in it. [I’ll think], ‘This is bad editing,’ ‘Why did I record this?’ ‘The camera is shaking so much.’ So it’s always really inspiring when something like that happens and someone is genuinely enjoying the videos.”


Looking Around

As the video progresses, more insight appears from these seemingly dull moments. As she walks across the quad, second-year MacGregor mentions her appreciation for the campus’s architecture. “As you can see, there’s this ornate thing at the top on the ceiling here, and it’s things like that that I just really love about the campus, the architectural details about it.”

At this, fourth-year McGregor reacted, noting that this sort of fascination with the architecture on campus is something that can go away if we aren’t careful.

“I feel like after many years on this campus with its Gothic architecture, it’s something you just walk by and you don’t even look at,” MacGregor said. “That’s one thing this year I’ve been trying to not be desensitized to. It’s not something you’ll get to live on every day, this Gothic campus.”

 Noticing, experiencing, and appreciating dull moments is something MacGregor still tries to emphasize today.

“I tell myself to hold on more to the present and to stop wishing for the next thing to happen. I think that I’m still kind of trapped in that attitude of always looking to the next step rather than focusing on what I currently have now,” she said.


Tracing Interests

Watching a past version of herself, MacGregor was forced to think about her passions—how they’ve originated and changed.

In the video, second-year MacGregor shares that for a creative writing class, she had been doing research on Christmas tree farms during the Great Depression. Unbeknownst to her, the Great Depression would soon become one of MacGregor’s primary topics of interest, and creative writing would become her major.

“That’s so funny. I didn’t remember that I’d set that [creative writing assignment] during the Great Depression. I guess that’s when I started being interested in the 1920s and ’30s.”

Fourth-year MacGregor added, “Right now I’m writing my thesis as a historical fiction set in 1929, when the Great Depression starts, so it’s kind of interesting watching back.”

The video continues, cutting to a few scenes of MacGregor’s life, including a cut of her reading a book. Fourth-year MacGregor cut in—“The Kite Runner. That’s weird. I would not have thought it was years ago that I read it.” MacGregor paused for a few moments, as if the book materialized in her head. “It’s a good book,” she remarked.

These remarks about her classes and other academic topics may seem trivial, but they get at the root of why MacGregor chooses to produce videos.

“A lot of [the YouTube channel] is academics. It’s just me talking about studying and everything. So it’s an area that I feel very familiar with,” MacGregor said. “I’ve always really struggled with being able to communicate with people, and I think academics have always been my safe spot.”


Some Things Never Change

Soon, a group of people walk into the room second-year MacGregor is in. She stumbles a bit as she tries to conceal her phone, and the video shakes. A message appears as a text bubble in the video: “filming with other people is very difficult :(.” Fourth-year MacGregor chuckled a little.

“This is one thing that has been constant all four years. Sometimes I wish I had the confidence to just take the phone out in front of everyone, but it stresses me out,” MacGregor said. “I think at least outside I’ve gotten better about holding [the camera] steady.”

While it might be surprising that MacGregor, as a YouTuber, feels many of the same anxieties about filming in public that the rest of us do, it’s part of what gives her videos a genuine charm—the shakiness of the videos, the sudden cuts because someone walked in.

“I try to keep it as genuine as possible. I want my videos to be authentic,” MacGregor said. “I want them to be genuine glimpses of what life is like.”



After watching the video, MacGregor discussed the changes in perspective that occur from second to fourth year, both for herself but also in a broader sense. 

One shift that MacGregor pointed to between the early and late college experience is that of intention: taking classes as a form of exploration versus taking them to accomplish a specific goal.

In MacGregor’s case, for example, she did not decide to major in creative writing or follow a pre-law track until the end of her second year. Her first two years at the college included many uncertainties, especially as she tried to navigate her choice of major.

“For me, in second year, I didn’t know what I wanted to do with anything. It was kind of this gaping abyss in front of me: ‘I’m graduating in a couple of years, and I have no idea what I want to [major in],’” MacGregor said.

For MacGregor, this “gaping abyss” meant that much of the focus was around trying new classes, often to little avail.

“I was trying to fit in with certain majors, trying to find a place for myself that wasn’t there. I tried to force Global Studies upon myself, and I tried out a couple other majors. I tried to force myself to decide because I thought I had to double major to get the most out of my time here at UChicago. I didn’t end up double majoring.”

MacGregor mentions that, once she’d made a final decision to pursue a specific major, it really changed how she engaged with the university.

“[First and second years] were a very untethered experience, going through taking classes not knowing what I was taking them for. In fourth year now, I feel like there is intention to what I’m doing. There’s a contrast between second and fourth year, where second year is just an opportunity to explore, and now when I feel like I’m working towards something,” MacGregor said.

At the same time, MacGregor believes this type of exploratory process is a useful and positive part of the college experience.

“Not to say that it’s bad to not have intention. I think I’m very glad I had that opportunity to kind of explore and have the opportunity to not know what I was doing,” MacGregor said. “It’s helpful in learning who I am and what my passions are.”


The After Becomes Real

Another contrast that MacGregor pointed to is between internal and external concerns. She mentioned that, as a second-year (recall that her first year was disrupted due to COVID), questions about what the future looks like are very focused within the scope of UChicago: worries about classes, friends, and RSOs.

“The biggest way that the culture has changed is everyone’s on the brink of the next chapter in their lives. Second year, it was like everyone’s navigating this new thing of college. It’s figuring out who we are as students and how do you even give a presentation in a college class? How do you do lab reports? How do you study for final exams? I think it was all still very new at that point. And now it’s just something I’m so accustomed to,” MacGregor said.

MacGregor noted that this focus shifts toward adulthood and professional life as the college experience progresses.

“It’s no longer, ‘What are my next steps at UChicago?’ but ‘What are my next steps in adulthood? In life?’ It gets very real in a wonderful, bittersweet, and grim way all at once. Just because it’s so daunting,” MacGregor said.


Same Routine, Different Perspective

MacGregor also mentioned a sense of security in oneself that comes as one matures in college. She explained that, although much of what she does in her day-to-day is the same as it was when she was a second-year, her perspective on her own routine has changed.

“I think that my routine honestly hasn’t changed much. I do violin, I study, I read, I go to the dining hall,” MacGregor said. “There’s this expectation going into college that it’s going to meet these glorified cinematic kinds of depictions that we see in movies and TV shows and on TikTok and everything of college being full of parties and meeting with big groups at the dining hall and doing all these things that yes, [some] students do here.”

MacGregor mentioned that, at first, she aspired to one day have a more stereotypical college life.

“And that’s one thing I kind of expected to change throughout the four years. [I thought], at some point, ‘I’m going to attain that sort of Legally Blonde or Pitch Perfect vision of college,’ and that just never happened for me,” she said.

But now more than ever, MacGregor has learned to be at ease with her own college routine.

“I’m not disappointed about it or anything. I enjoy every day that I have here, and I’m trying to cherish each one because it’s so short-lived. But that’s one thing that has stayed very consistent in my four years: I have not been part of and I don’t think I’ll ever be part of what you expect when you think of ‘American college experience,’” MacGregor said.



In large part, MacGregor’s own journey was one of learning to live more in tune with everyday moments, whether this was appreciating and being at peace with her own routine or recognizing that even classes that weren’t directed to a major still had their own, important function.

MacGregor said the main lesson she has learned from her experience making videos is the importance of being in tune with and appreciating life’s wonderful moments.

“I was talking about this with my family at Christmas. There’s this obscure vintage Christmas song, and I don’t remember what it’s called, but the lyrics are like, ‘The only thing I want for Christmas is just to keep the things that I’ve got.’ And it’s really been hitting me this year,” MacGregor said. “I wish I could tell both my present self and my past self to stop trying to rush the future. Stop counting down to the next thing that’s happening. Stop willing the future upon yourself.”

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