It is the week of ubiquitous arrival. The dorms officially open tomorrow, but a lot of students have already arrived early -- for official reasons, like the international students and the football team and the marching band and the Resident Assistants in the dorms, or just because they wanted to pay the early move-in fee and get here already -- and of course the off-campus students have been filtering in all week. All over town there are upperclassmen having reunions with one another, parents looking tired and sad and proud but mostly tired and cranky, townies looking resigned, students looking excited and happy or maybe kind of scared (and some of them also tired and cranky).
I am forty-five. I moved here when I was eighteen, a wide-eyed freshman.
The ones I love are the ones who come here open and fall in love with this place, which means that they let this place change them.
I remember my first semester so vividly. I met new friends almost immediately, which for someone who was always shy and found it difficult to meet people was nothing short of miraculous. But we were all new, all strangers, which made it easier. Plus I lived in the hippie dorm. *grin* I remember an autumn night when some friends and I wandered downtown to a street dance featuring local bands. I was wearing a long skirt and sandals, and the harvest moon was fat and orange and weightless in the trees. I remember finding people who actually liked to talk about poetry. I remember reading Sylvia Plath and Adrienne Rich and knowing that my life would never be the same.
Nowadays, a lot of the undergrads live in luxury apartments, with giant plasma TVs and expensive cars and the stink of privilege. It's true that I resent them, their unquestioned assumption that they deserve all that, that life should be no other way, how they take material ease and comfort for granted. Not many of them end up being librarians, I suspect. Maybe some of them end up being poets. I kind of doubt it, but who knows.
My undergrad experience -- both in and out of classes -- was all about questioning everything. Who I was, what I wanted from life, what the point of all of it was. It was hard and I cried a lot, but it was the right way to do it, for me. I can't imagine what it's like not to question, just to assume, to demand, to take for granted. I can't imagine believing you have always been right about everything.
This is probably why I don't run the world.
I love being a part of this academic community, though. I love the vibrant energy, the sense of people all around me trying new things, the certainty that -- even if not everyone is here to be a scholar and not everyone wants to question their own beliefs -- a large part of the community around me is devoted to learning, teaching, understanding. Being in the library and knowing that somewhere in that building, now and then, someone pulls a book from a shelf and opens it and knows her life will never be the same. I love being, in some small way, a part of that.
Welcome back, students and learners and dancers and dreamers and yes, even the plasma-TV owners. Welcome back.