Walking through stores in town lately, I'm greeted by giant banners exclaiming it's back to school time. This is my first year back in Marquette for the beginning of the school year since I graduated from Northern in 2009. Back to school has meant little to me in the years since graduating, since most of my friends are out of school now and I don't have any kids.
But now, as I walk around town and see all the college students back for another year, I'm beginning to feel that pang of nostalgia as I see the incoming freshmen head out for their first few classes as university students. I remember what that felt like. It was so exciting to sit in a lecture hall, a brand new notebook opened to the first blank page, a professor standing in front of the chalkboard espousing his knowledge on 20th century art and architecture.
There are few moments in life so liberating as those first few weeks of college. You're on your own for the first time. Your classes are entirely of your choosing. You can set your own schedule, make all your own decisions. You can finally see what it's like to live unfettered by parental rules or your high school social status.
In college, you can show those little quirks or oddities about yourself that you had to keep hidden in high school. I met a few oddballs my freshman year, but the difference was the oddballs in college weren't sitting on their own in the back of the class. Often times they were the most outspoken students in the classroom.
The terminology changes a bit in college as well. An assignment to translate a Spanish short story was always considered studying, never homework. All-nighters were not unusual, as we often put off our "studying" until the last minute in favor of pints of Ben & Jerry's and Law & Order marathons.
In college, you can narrow down what you want to study. I had one semester that involved three literature classes. I read more than 20 books that semester, and it was the best term I had in my years at Northern. There is no better homework (excuse me, "studying") than sitting on a futon in a dorm room reading Joseph Heller's "Catch-22" or James McBride's "The Color of Water" until 2 a.m.
I've always been enamored with the classroom. That's why, as a freshman, I was sure I'd be spending my college years working on an education degree. I wanted to teach high school English. Though that dream changed in favor of a writing career, I still loved (almost) every minute I spent in class.
In high school, back to school shopping was exciting. I loved nothing more than sitting down in my first hour class on the first day of school and opening up a fresh notebook to the first page. I love a brand new notebook. It's one of the small pleasures in life.
And I never threw away any of my notebooks from college. I even have one notebook from a high school pre-calculus class. Leafing through that thing now, it's like trying to read Greek. The graphs and equations don't make sense anymore, but it's nice to know that, at one point at least, they did.
And as the leaves begin to change, and I see the new school year starting up at Northern, and soon at the grade schools around the area, I can't help but look back and remember how great it really was to be a student.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Jackie Stark is a Marquette resident and a staff reporter at The Mining Journal. Her column appears bi-weekly. She can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.