I recently attended my 50th high-school reunion, and as I reflected on my graduation in 1969, I also recalled my first year of college in September of that year. I was extremely nervous, of course, because I had never lived away from home before, and I would have to share a dormitory room with someone I had never met before. Fortunately, I adjusted to those new realities quite easily and quickly, and within a week or so, I settled in for what would become the four easiest years of my life. Naturally, I was too young and immature at the time to realize my good fortune, and I took everything for granted, but looking back now as a relatively wise old man, I finally realize I had it made.
The first advantage I enjoyed as a student on campus is that I did not have to deal with the morning commute. During my high-school years, for example, I would usually walk to school, take a city bus, or find a ride with friends who had both licenses and cars. The walk option was probably 45 minutes carrying a gym bag (at that time, no one used back packs) while the bus option usually took a half hour, and I had to stand in the aisle most of the way. The friend option was an easy 15-minute drive, but that didn’t happen consistently until my senior year. Part of me wished I had a car of my own, but I had no comprehension of the adult responsibilities that would have been involved: paying for the car, keeping it insured and inspected, filling the gas tank, and keeping up with repairs. I was definitely an innocent soul, totally unaware of the real world that surrounded me. That innocence continued at college.
On our relatively small campus, I could walk to all of the classroom buildings within ten minutes or less. That meant I could sleep until about 7:30, hit the snooze button once, and still have time to quickly wash my face, brush my teeth, get dressed, and make it to my 8:00 class with about a minute to spare. There, I’d often hear my commuting classmates complain about the traffic or describe the difficulty of finding a parking spot. On snowy days, too, they’d have to get up extra early to clean off their cars, shovel their driveways, and, sometimes, jump start their vehicles to arrive at school. I never had to perform any of those tasks, and, quite honestly, if I looked out the window and saw six inches or more of snow, I didn’t even make the effort. I turned off the alarm and went back to sleep.
My second advantage was the campus cafeteria. This building was even closer to my dormitory, right next door, in fact. When my 8:00 class ended, I could still visit the cafeteria and choose from cereals, fruits, eggs, bacon or sausage, pancakes, French toast, just about any breakfast food imaginable. In addition, I could enjoy unlimited glasses of milk or juice. And I enjoyed lunch and dinner in a similar fashion. All I had to do was show my identification card at the door, and the meals were provided for me. No shopping or cooking on my part. Yes, we complained about the “mystery meat” we saw once in a while, but overall, the food was good and plentiful. Again, I had it made. All I had to do was wash my dishes afterwards. Wait, no; I didn’t even have to do that. We simply brought our empty trays to the rear of the cafeteria, and someone else cleaned up for us. Boy was I spoiled.
My third campus advantage was my lack of family responsibility. At home, I was part of a family of eight — my parents, my five sisters, and me. Thus, I had to be somewhat aware of others in regard to sharing the bathrooms, sharing meals, and sharing space in the living room. Everything always seemed somewhat crowded and tight. At college, since my roommate was always off studying in the science building, I typically had our small dormitory room to myself, and the peace and quiet was wonderful. In addition, I had no campus chores. At home, I honestly didn’t do much — bring in the milk from the back porch three mornings a week, take out the garbage on Wednesday night, and wash dishes on Sunday — but I did even less on campus. No one expected me to do anything. I was literally an island unto myself, and I loved it, an only child for once in my life.
What else did I do on campus when I wasn’t attending class or procrastinating about doing homework? Mostly, I was playing baseball or thinking about playing baseball. At the time, I was naïve enough to believe that one day, I would replace Mickey Mantle in centerfield for the New York Yankees, and I nurtured that dream by playing for our college team. We played games during both the fall and spring semesters, and we practiced daily otherwise. I loved every minute of it. Obviously, I never became good enough to play professionally, but during my four college years, I felt like a pro. Life was so good during that time.
My final advantage, believe it or not, had to do with snacks. At home, we weren’t supposed to eat snacks between meals, so I could only eat cookies or drink soda when no one else was around, and, believe me, that didn’t happen often. Thus, I sometimes bought my snacks on the outside and then had to surreptitiously smuggle them into the house and up to my bedroom where I could enjoy them while reading my Sport magazine. When I got to college, though, I found something I hadn’t even imagined was possible — something that I had somehow missed on the campus tour and something for which I would always be grateful: vending machines. At any time of the day or night, as long as I had change in my pocket, I could buy a candy bar, a small bag of chips, a soda, or even, amazingly, ice cream — on a stick, in a small cup, or in sandwich form. With all that baseball activity and with all those treats, I was, indeed, in heaven.
Today, I work in a community college, and when I compare my college days to what these students do regularly, I am amazed. Most of them deal daily with all the chores that I avoided during my four-year hiatus from the real world: the daily commute, food preparation, and family responsibilities. Finally, instead of playing baseball and snacking late at night, most of them are working part-time or full-time jobs in addition to their academic endeavors. They are extremely busy, yet when they visit The Writing and Research Center for assistance, they are always polite and patient. I can’t help but admire them for their tenacity and their perseverance under difficult circumstances.