The Start of a New Semester

When I was in college, I only ever saw it through the eyes of a student. I went spring term a few times, and so I thought I knew what things were like in slower times. But I’m now heading into my 11th year working at a university full time as a staff member. You start to see things differently after you’ve been at a place for that long.

Of course, it also helps that I live in such a small town. There’s a huge difference when you take a town of 7,760 people and then add 1,750 students to the mix. It’s a difference that’s readily apparent, but it becomes even more stark with each passing year that I live here.

In the summer months, campus is almost in hibernation mode. (At least, the library is.) We do most of our renovations then. We go to conferences. We get things in order for when the students return. There are some summer classes, and there are summer camps that go on at the university, but much of that doesn’t end up directly affecting the library.

The week before classes start up again, students and faculty begin to return. It’s easy to mistake this initial influx of people for what things are “really like.” “Ah yes. This is what it’s like when people are back.” But then classes actually start, and you remember just how wrong that is. Sort of like when I drive down to Massachusetts and hit traffic in Portland. “Ah yes. This is what traffic is like.” And then comes Boston and I remember what it really is.

I’m always excited to see the students return each year. To see all the freshmen wandering around with confused expressions, looking more than a little bewildered, but doing their best to pretend they’ve got it all together. To see friends meeting up again after a summer off. It’s a great reminder for why I do what I do and just what goes on here.

Academia in America can get a bad rap from time to time. It’s accused of being too expensive and being irrelevant. And there’s definitely an argument to be made for each of those in some cases. But for many, many students, it’s still the best way to prepare for a long, successful career. It’s also a wonderful transitory period as students learn the ropes of being adults instead of children. More than a hundred years ago, “teenager” wasn’t much of a concept. You were a kid, and then you were an adult. But in the intervening time, that time of being a teenager has really developed and broadened, and now it’s very much an important part of a person’s life. College plays a real role there, giving people time to establish who they are and how they will approach life.

In any case, I’m excited to see everyone back, even though it makes for a harried start to my week. Students are the lifeblood of my workplace and my town, and it’s great to have them back.

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