(Written on Saturday, August 19, 2017)
It’s Move-In Day at the local college. Traffic has been a mess all week as students who live off campus, as well as student advisors and others with pre-move-in responsibilities, clog the roads for miles around. Roadside signs directing parents and new students to this or that area of campus begin several miles beyond town.
The campus itself is dotted with temporary identification and directional signage. Campus security personnel and ROTC students direct on-campus traffic while other staff, including my nearest neighbor, are on hand to help carry suitcases, boxes, and carts full of bedding and other necessities to dorm rooms—this being their fourteenth straight day on the job. They’ve been hectically sprucing up those same rooms and making sure all maintenance issues have been resolved in preparation for this weekend for weeks.
Dorm parking lots are full of loaded pick-up trucks and rental trailers as parents help their fledglings move in. I’ve seen license tags from places as far away as New Hampshire, Texas, and Colorado. We’re used to out-of-staters. After all, we’re a tourist town as well as a college town, but the prevalence of far flung tags has been greater for the last few days.
Students fill the campus and downtown sidewalks in groups of twos, threes, and fives. It’s an exhilarating time. Freshmen are getting acquainted with their roommates and other newbies. Their shared excitement, nervousness, and uncertainty creates an instant and strong bond. Upperclassmen are eager for reunions with friends. Some are all aflutter at the prospect of being back together with sweethearts after months apart. For a few, the start of the new year is bittersweet, having said sad good-byes to their steadies back home, but eager to greet friends and decorate their rooms.
Parking lots and dorm rooms are scenes for a fair share of teary-eyed goodbyes, but for the most part the damp cheeks belong to parents. More students than not are virtually shoving their families out the door. They want Mom and Dad to stop with the bed-making and drawer-filling and advice-giving. They want to get on with it. This is their time.
It’s a weekend unlike any other. No classes, no assignments. It’s get-acquainted time. Settle-in time. A few hours of relaxation with no academic stresses. Still, minds are a little muddled for many freshmen, who have more-than-ever moments of feeling like little kids on the inside while trying with all their might to be all grown up on the outside. Their innermost feelings and fears will not be spoken aloud.
Today is all about hope. It’s the beginning of a fresh start. Freshmen, especially, have a chance to make themselves anew, if they choose. No baggage follows them here. No one knows their academic, family, or personal backgrounds. They can scout out other like-minded folks; there are clubs and organizations aplenty for exploring new ideas and finding expression for their deepest interests. (In fact, some of these kids will be unrecognizable on their first weekend home—with radical hair colors and styles, tats in unlikely places, piercings on improbable body parts, and strange new ideas. They may sport heretofore unknown wardrobes to announce their current status.)
Meanwhile, vendors conglomerate just beyond the school’s boundaries to hawk mini-fridges, carpet remnants, and college-themed products for student rooms. Restaurants, retail stores, and churches display signs that say things like “Welcome Back” or “Welcome, Students.” One was different. It simply said, “Welcome Home.” In a microsecond I was transported to my own college days, and I realized this was the sign that got it right.
Even as a butterflies-in-the-stomach freshman, it was only a matter of days until I understood I’d found my home at my now alma mater. As I returned from semester and summer breaks for my next three years, I knew for certain I was coming home—home to roommates, classmates, hall parties (held for any reason or no reason at all). Home to favorite professors and classes for which I had a passion. Home to love interests, ball games, dances, bonfires, and concerts. Home to learning and my still unknown future. Of course, I still referred to that place from which I hailed as home, too, but it was my parents’ home. This was mine. All mine.
Welcome home, students!