Thursday, January 22, 2015

Back to school again. And again. And again.

By now, I should be used to the first day of school. I have, after all, had 60 of them.

There are few events in life that so mix anticipation with trepidation as the first day of school. In elementary school, I hoped to see friends who summer parted from me, but then I worried that the multiplication tables had changed over the break.

In high school, I was relieved that I wouldn’t be dodging Mom and Dad’s long list of summer chores, but I knew that I was too geek and not enough cool to sit with “the” crowd at lunch.

The rotten trick of college is that you have at least two first days each year. And the more letters you stack behind your name, the more of those first days you face.

As an undergraduate, I sweated that I would somehow so screw up that the draft board would send me an invitation to Mekong Tech. On the other hand, parties were never so memorable as when I was just under the drinking age.

The draft was gone by the time I was a junior. All I had to worry about is whether I would learn enough to actually get a job. But I had a beautiful coed on my arm and could look forward to decades of marital bliss. (That’s one dream that came true).

A sane person would have stopped there – as I did for 17 years. Graduate school has a way of sneaking up to you, though. Doubly so if you put a decade between master’s and doctoral programs.

The first day of term in grad school is a blur. Sometimes you have so many research projects you don’t notice the end of one semester and the beginning of another. You know you are on break, however, when you are franticly scrambling for whatever someone will pay you to make a dent in that tuition bill.

Of course, it’s a crapshoot whether the classes you signed up for will be anything like the titles in the catalog. I signed up for a “cultural studies” seminar to learn about minority audiences. I took a seat next to the guy in a Mao hat to learn how traditional media folk were ruining the world. Traditional Mao-hatless folk like me.

Now I’m a professor who not only faces two first days each year, but dons a cap and gown for two graduations each year. I like the graduation – its harvest time in higher ed. And after each graduation I swear I’m going to update my syllabi right away and have a complete set of PowerPoints ready long before I would see the next wave of students.

Yea, right. I’m a journalist. Skirting the finality of a deadline is in my DNA. The Journalism School is amazingly full of busy professors the weekend before class starts.

But just like in elementary school and my many other first days of school, the stresses of starting over now are more than balanced by the joys that come with them. I love that I’m on the other side of the pressure cooker. While I’m scrambling to prepare assignments, I get to watch the wide-eyed new undergraduates, the mentally-already-graduated seniors and the overwhelmed grad students find their places. And I get to offer advice, assurance and consolation. Because I know:

Been there, done that -- 60 times.

No. 3 in a paired-theme series with my daughter at

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