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The New Semester Is Upon Us

The New Semester Is Upon Us

A few musings as we gear up for the next round: These last weeks before term actually begins are fairly filled with planning exercises of varying degrees of interest, which clearly mark the end of summer for us administrators.

Even before this, of course, we and many others have been involved in the relatively new tradition of summer-anchored new student orientations. Ours seem to go quite well (I can say this having, at most, a small role). Parents, whom we tire mercilessly, particularly note how well the occasions are orchestrated, often in contrast to other institutions to which some prior blindspot caused them to send an earlier offspring.

For my part, one of my little self-tests involves trying to make sure that I’m a bit excited but also a bit nervous as we approach the first day of class. I tallied recently how many fall, first-class days I’ve participated in, which turns out to be a bit scary. But I have long believed that as long as that little anticipatory tension is there, I’m still in the right place. And this time at least, the test is passed once again.

I’m also amused, casting even further back, on the changes involved. The one clear thing I recall about my first days in college just before classes began — aside from being barred admittance from the dining hall because I was not wearing a tie (who knew? who cared?) — was the ominous statement by some faceless dean about looking to the left then looking to the right — one of us three would not make it through.  This scared the droppings out of me in ways that I still try to assess. The contrast with the friendly welcome and social embellishments that are now standard is really interesting. Both approaches contain some artificiality (the scary dean was not, in fact, speaking the truth). I certainly prefer the current version. But there are some downsides too that are also worth pondering as we turn to the real task of sharing with our new batch of students the opportunity to learn new things.