On a sunny day, the bricks of Royce Hall seem to almost glow. At Kerckhoff Coffee House, there’s a caffeinated buzz; fluttering flyers are gently thrust at you as you stroll down Bruin Walk, each promising a performance, an event, or a club that will enhance your life. It’s all part of the pastiche of everyday life on campus.

There’s another part, of course. The legion comprising UCLA’s most talkative and bubbly liaisons, one hundred students who backpedal past Powell or jaunt down Janss Steps in their classic blue polos, unveiling a vision of impending Bruinhood to eager parents and starry-eyed teenagers. Rain or shine, from January to December, you’ll find a UCLA tour guide in every corner of campus, rolling out the welcome mat for the next generation of Bruins. 

There Goes the Bride
Sierra Benayon-Abraham, 2nd Year

Giving tours can be stressful: the unpredictable weather, the steep hills (hiked backwards, of course) and the crazy questions from parents and prospective students alike. I faced many stressful tours in my first year as a guide. But I was about to face my biggest challenge yet: my final evaluation, where my mentors would watch me closely to see if I was finally ready to guide campus guests on my own.

Even before my first tour started, I felt the pressure. My parents had flown in from Toronto, my roommates came to cheer me on. And because another tour guide had canceled, my group was twice as large as usual. But I was ready.

I’ve got to say, I started off strong. We paraded up Bruin Walk and marched past Kerckhoff, and I recited my script perfectly. Soon I was at the Court of Sciences in South Campus. I had stopped my group in the center of the plaza, ready to talk about engineering and chemistry programs, when I saw a random boy walking straight toward me. Before I could even register what was happening, he got on one knee, looked straight into my eyes and said, “I saw you across the courtyard and knew that if I didn’t say anything I would regret it for the rest of my life. Will you marry me?”

Complete and utter silence. I felt a rush in my ears. Why now? Who was this? Could he not have taken me out to dinner first? A few seconds of awkward silence later, my tour mentors stepped in, explaining to the random guy that we had to move on with the tour and informing the confused guests that this was, in fact, not a part of our regularly scheduled programming.

Despite Cupid’s minor intervention, I finished the tour and passed my final evaluation. I never saw my almost fiancé again, though my tour mentor couldn’t resist giving me the nickname “Proposals-and-All.” As guides we get some pretty random questions. But that day I received one unlikely to be topped.

Christina Gandolfo

Bienvenido a Casa
Marcus Aurelius, 4th Year

It was an admitted students day for Latinx students to tour UCLA. Giving tours has always been something I’ve loved, but as a proud Latino myself on this day I had a special motivation to describe our programs with even more excitement, even more love and care.

As my group and I snaked through the brick buildings and bright green lawns of campus, I told my own journey of Bruin matriculation. Amid the colorful lore of Royce Hall and fun facts about campus clubs, I spoke about how my family had immigrated from Guatemala and El Salvador, and how my Latino identity informed my education. As the tour concluded, it was time for me to recite my “Why UCLA” — my reason for having chosen to come here. 

My “Why UCLA” is always meaningful. Yes, it discusses the many reasons to choose UCLA over so many other institutions. But it’s also a critical part of my story. It explains who I am. And on this day, it felt even more important.

As I addressed the crowd of eager students and excited parents, I recounted how my family had spent three generations trying to get into higher education, and how I got a chance to attend my dream school. I explained how much I loved earning my degree at this university and sharing my story at a place that supported and encouraged my identities. When it was all said and done, it felt right.

But just when I thought it was over, a father and son walked toward me. As the son thanked me for the tour and said I was the reason he had chosen to come to UCLA, I noticed his father tearing up. Speaking to me in Spanish, he described his own journey from Puerto Rico and his experience in the mainland United States. “You should be so proud of yourself,” he said. “I hope my son turns out like you.”

It was a moment I will never forget.

I used to think that my job as a tour guide was all about reciting the reasons UCLA was a great school: the beautiful campus on a sunny day, the delicious food in the dining halls, the dynamic lectures and discussions. But since that day, I’ve realized how a tour is so much more than the facts and figures. How my own “Why UCLA” can become someone else’s.

The Long Way Home
Sanketh Santhosh, 4th Year

Many students at UCLA boast great high school grades, superb SAT scores and an admission letter on their first try. That wasn’t quite the case for me. After high school, admissions to top colleges were not my fate. The truth is, I was rejected from all but one school I applied to.

While attending community college, I worked hard to earn the grades and build the resume that would allow me to transfer and become a Bruin. It was hard work. But I’m so proud to say I made it to Westwood.

I make sure to tell this story, openly and plainly, to my tours — especially those of community college students. I tell them how my path wasn’t easy, but it was mine. Once, attending a prestigious university felt like the most foreign, unlikely thing in the world. It may be a cliché, but it’s also true: Anything is possible.

The first tour I ever gave for community college students was with a group from Southwestern College in Chula Vista. I was eager to show them every corner of campus, what their reality could look like. After giving them my full story (cheesy lines and all), I told them about who I had become in my short time at UCLA. I reminisced about the student groups I had joined in my first month, the POC alumni who had inspired me, and all the students I had met who, like me, came from non-traditional or underrepresented backgrounds. I tried to show them, in one breezy walk, all the unlimited things they could become.

As we said goodbye at the Bruin Statue, a student came up to me and said thank you. This wasn’t an unusual response, but what he said afterward surprised me.

He told me that he had never really considered doing even more school after his associate’s degree, but my story, corny asides and all, had really resonated with him. I managed to keep my insane enthusiasm to a minimum as we exchanged a few more words, but I couldn’t completely help myself. As we said our goodbyes and he started walking away, I blurted out, “See you in the fall!”

I haven’t seen him on campus yet. But I hope I will. 

Read more from UCLA Magazine’s Summer 2024 issue.