The Last First Day

7 Sep

Tomorrow I start what will probably be my last year of formal education. Once I’m done, I’ll have spent 19 of the past 21 years in school, and there was never any doubt during that two-year gap that I’d be going back for something, somewhere. While I’m ready to get on with life and head into the full-time work world, it’s still the end of an era.

I’m the son of a professor and a librarian, so it’s probably no great surprise that I enjoy school. The environment I grew up in took school success so naturally I never really needed to be pushed to do well there. It’s always been home, a place where I am at ease, and I’m fiercely loyal to the schools I’ve attended, even if I am sometimes critical of them. Sure, I can see the flaws in everything, but I’ll still scowl at anything or anyone who might besmirch their reputations. They made me who I am. I spend some of my free time reading up on education, learning about other schools, and speculating idly on the pretentious books and philosophies I’ll subject my own children to someday. School is in my blood.

There’s something especially warm and familiar about the first few weeks in fall, when the weather is still warm and the grind has yet to start. It all seems fresh, a comforting cycle that will always be there for us. It is this renewed promise incarnate, passed from generation to generation, that gives life the edge it needs to push toward greatness, and at the same time allows us to descend into the recesses of our minds where we sort out who we are and what we stand for. I feed off that youthful energy, perhaps because I once worried I’d wasted it before finally discovering how to hold on to it.

From time to time, I’ve had people wonder why I don’t go into teaching or somewhere in the education world. I like being around high school and college-aged people, old enough to have learned a thing or two and pressed by a billion possibilities but still in possession of that youthful swagger. I enjoy passing along wisdom and making people think, and education (for now, anyway) offers stability in which one can rule over a little domain and do some good in the world, year after year. I’m confident that I could push kids to do at least a few impressive things, and a past fear of lecturing in front of people isn’t what it once was.

And yet there is no desire here. I could speculate why, with reasons ranging from my worries about the future of education to the world of campus politics to my ego. In the end, it’s probably a healthy separation: even for a voracious learner, it is important to remember that life is not like school. For too long, I labored under the delusion that all life was an exercise in getting an ‘A’ on everything. I was the poster child for a stifling quest to please, living as if some omniscient grader up in the sky was rating my every move on a 100-point scale. It’s not as if my parents or my schools forced this on me; my ambition did it all by itself. I had to be the best, and so I strove to be, whatever the cost. Later, disillusioned, it took me some time to realize that any fault didn’t lie with the ambition itself, but the way I’d directed it. It was easy to figure out what was wrong, but figuring out where to go next was an entirely different challenge.

But figure it out I did, to the extent that anyone can, and now it is time for one final year. It promises to be a packed one, with a normal course load, two jobs, two student organizations to run, my normal hockey duties, and this little blog to keep alive. It will be one last chance to enjoy the school calendar and run the gamut of on-campus events, and fix up the one or two remaining affairs I need to put in order before joining the adult world full-stop. More importantly, though, it’s a time to go all in with the people around me, the true foundation of any program, and I will have to tend to older ties as well. It will be a whirlwind, but these years of clear finality are always the most rewarding, the ones most likely to strengthen lifelong bonds and inspire deep thoughts. It’s a well I’ll return to time and again after this year, but never again will I be able to plumb its depths quite like this. Once more unto the breach, dear friends; once more.

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