Perhaps I am a little late with this, but over the past week I’ve been thinking a lot about the excitement and nerves that go along with the back-to-school season. Chicago public schools went back earlier this month, and most colleges in the area have been back for a month or more at this point. But my school, Northwestern, and my neighbor, the University of Chicago, both start back later this week because of the quarter system.
I mentioned it briefly in my three things post from yesterday, but all week I loved looking at pictures that came through Northwestern’s various social media accounts of all the new freshmen and transfer students at orientation. Yesterday afternoon, I took a walk through my neighborhood and caught glimpses of University of Chicago students moving into dorms and apartments, herding together on the quad in matching t-shirts for ice breakers and team building activities. Looking at and watching all of this just filled me with inexplicable excitement, and I guess what could be called hope, or hopeful feelings for what lies ahead.
I didn’t do the whole traditional college student thing, to some extent. I didn’t “go away” to college. My college was in my hometown and I passed by it several times a month before I was enrolled there. I lived at home with my parents my first year, moved into my grandmother’s empty house and lived alone, and off-campus, my final three years. My friends thought it was cool that I lived alone, and not in a dorm room, because my school had a pretty strict “everyone lives on campus” policy that I circumvented. What they didn’t know was that I envied them in their dorms. Okay, yes, I don’t dig the idea of communal bathrooms or roommates, but the idea of being able to walk 2 minutes down a hallway, instead of 20 minutes through downtown, to see friends was certainly appealing. Sometimes I don’t feel like I did college “right” because I didn’t do the whole dorm thing, but that’s silly. There is no “right” way to do college really, and a dorm room is a small fraction of the experience.
Sometimes I wish I could go back to undergrad. Four years seems like such a long time when you are just starting out, thinking about beginning your college career, but four years is nothing. I get hopelessly nostalgic thinking about my first year of college and watching students just starting their college careers. It’s an exciting time, full of potential to do whatever you want to do and make of it whatever you want to make. It is so easy to lose that excitement and sense of potential. It is easy to get bogged down. I guess you could say I am attempting to live vicariously through new college students. I don’t actually know anyone who is a freshman in college, at any institution, this year, but I like being reminded of that just-starting-out feeling.
For the first time in many years, I don’t feel like I am really going back to school this year. I’m still working on my degree, but I’m in the thesis phase which means no traditional classes for me, no trips to campus, no classrooms, no textbooks. I’m trying to gear myself up for this final push in my degree, but it’s harder than I thought. It turns out that I like routine. I like the imposed structure of formal education, the start and end dates, the syllabi, the deadlines, the feeling of a fresh start that comes with the beginning of every quarter or semester. That feeling of excitement that accompanies the idea of going back-to-school is something I welcome around this time of year, something I hope never fades, even if it means that I am scouring the Internet for back to campus pictures every September.