Wednesday, October 7, 2015

flashback: move-in day at UMM.

I’m a few months behind here, but it hit me other day:

It’s been TEN YEARS since I wandered onto the University of Minnesota Morris campus as a puny and terrified freshman.

This realization struck me as James (who arrived at UMM the very same day I did) and I strolled around the UMM campus in early October. We had made the drive for homecoming – not that we went to any of the events. It was an excuse to visit our old stomping grounds and hang out with some old UMM friends and lament about how old we are. Which we did.

After breakfast at Don’s and while roaming the campus, James and I walked by our freshman dorm… and it slowly dawned on us that we had moved into Independence Hall one decade ago. Allow me to take you back in time…

AUGUST 25, 2005
It was move-in day at UMM. I had been simultaneously overjoyed and petrified of this day ever since I signed the papers pledging my heart and soul and my firstborn child to UMM. I was so ready to leave my tiny rural Midwestern hometown of Arlington… for slightly less tiny rural Midwestern college town called Morris. But I was also quite wary of leaving my friends and family behind. Was I really ready to start from scratch at a college two-and-a-half hours from home, where I knew absolutely nobody?

On that drive to Morris, the thought flitted across my mind that I maybe should’ve gone to SDSU instead. It was closer to home, and I would be able to see my friends. And as an awkward person by nature, how was I going to make brand-new friends? What if no one liked me? The insecurities of my 18 year-old self reared their ugly heads, and I hoped against hope that the other UMM students wouldn’t think I was too weird.

You see, in high school, being weird was my thing. It took a while for me to be able to actually make it work (until senior year, in fact), but it eventually took hold. Weird quirky Calla who loves band and carries a disposable camera wherever she goes. Weird quirky Calla who hangs out with her weird quirky friends who are up to their eyeballs in inside jokes. Weird quirky Calla who most definitely doesn’t fit in, but is ok with it.

Had I known then what I know now, I would not have had a thing to worry about. I would soon find out that college is the easiest place on earth to make friends, and that being weird is almost expected. Especially at UMM.

But I didn’t know that yet, so I forged ahead to UMM, nervous and excited. Sure, I’d be starting over with friends, but isn’t starting over what college is all about? It’s a clean slate: no one at college would know of my ugly ducking history – they would only know what I wanted them to know. I could be whomever I pleased.

That shred of confidence vanished as soon as we pulled into the crowded Indy Hall parking lot. My entire family had come with me: even my brother and sister, who had started school (grades 7 and 9, respectively) earlier in the week, took the day off to help me move to college. I was so grateful to have them all there.

The place was an absolute zoo. Luckily, my dorm room was on the first floor, so we assumed moving would be nice and easy. As it turned out, moving in was even easier than we expected: UMM had a move-in crew made up of upperclassmen. We just piled my stuff on the ground and told the eager beaver neon t-shirted move-in crew where it had to go (Indy 1C). It was done in the blink of an eye, and with the help of my family, I was unpacked in almost no time. I had opted for a metal bunk bed thing for optimal living space (you put the bed on top and your desk underneath), so that was assembled. As no dorm room in the history of ever has air conditioning, I remember us all being swelteringly hot.

The activities that followed are kind of a blur to me. There was so much to do and so little time to do it, so you’ll have to forgive my lack of precise detail.

  • got a parking pass for my car
  • met my new roommate and most of my new floormates
  • got my student ID, my dorm room key, and the quintessential lanyard
  • attended a handful of “welcome to UMM” sessions – some of which were for parents only/students only
  • made sure my meal plan was in order
  • ate at the welcome picnic
  • signed me up for band

That last point is very important. I joined band on a whim: sure, I was a band kid in high school, but not so much of a band kid that I ever actually practiced my clarinet. I wasn’t planning on joining college band until I attended the freshman registration event earlier that summer. I signed up for my required classes and found myself with an empty time slot… right when band was. A little persistent voice in my brain (it’s possible that it was my dad) told me I should sign up. So I did.

And that’s why I found myself in the Humanities and Fine Arts building with my family, wandering around and looking for the sign-up sheet for band auditions. The four of them stayed out by the lockers while I crept into the depths of the music offices, finally locating the mythical sign-up sheet. Having locked down an audition, I emerged from the hallways to find my family happily chatting away with a smiley redhead. I sidled up to them and was introduced to James: he was a trumpet player, and he had also just moved into Indy Hall (2B). This guy was so totally at ease with everything around him that I could hardly believe that he was also a freshman. He bid us farewell, telling me that he’d stop by my dorm room sometime so we could hang out. And that’s how I made my first UMM friend – and also how I met my husband.

When the time came for my family to go home, part of me wanted to jump in the minivan and go right back with them. But at the same time, another part of me felt like everything was going to be just fine. My mom has said that I looked like a deer in headlights when they left my dorm room that August day, and I have no doubt about that.
It was a weird day for all of us.
It was shocking to see them go: sure, I’d been to overnight camp before, so it’s not like I’d never had the experience of being dropped off in a strange place. But this was different. My parents weren’t coming back to pick me up in a week, and I wasn’t going to be expected to sit around campfires and sing songs. I would be taking classes and writing papers and CHANGING THE WORLD. This was COLLEGE. I was an adult now. (Or what I thought was an adult.) It was sink or swim, and I hadn’t made it this far to stop swimming now.

So as my parents drove away, I took a deep breath, put on my brave smile, and strode forth to meet my future.

College at UMM was basically the highlight of my life thus far. I couldn’t have asked for a better college experience. Of course, it wasn’t perfect, but that’s part of what made it so great. For every adventure I had in college, I probably had two misadventures. I have SO MANY STORIES, and I can’t wait to tell them.

As James and I waxed nostalgic on this last trip to UMM, sighing about the good old days and longing for such freedom. We were so young, and I was a starry-eyed optimist: something that I’ve regretfully grown out of. Every day was a new magical adventure, and your responsibilities were limited to classwork and the possible ten-hour-a-week job. Your student loan debt hadn’t come calling, and you were not expected to have adult things like a sedan and a mortgage. Life was so blissfully simple.

Ah, but all good things must end. Adult life has its perks (namely, a paycheck and a house free of black mold… unlike the house I occupied in college), but it’s no college. No more do you spend each and every waking moment around your friends, and no more do you take impromptu road trips to the far-away Target. Everyone has jobs, many are married and have kids. Life goes on.

Nothing sums up my post-college feelings better than the Avenue Q song called “I Wish I Could Go Back to College.” 
Allow me to excerpt some lyrics:

I wish I could go back to college
In college you know who you are
You sit on the quad and think,
“Oh my God! I am totally gonna go far!”

The song ends with these lines:

But if I were to go back to college
Think what a loser I’d be.
I walk through the quad and think,
“Oh my GOD. These kids are so much younger than me.”

Walking through the mall (a patch of grass equivalent to a quad) at UMM, I felt exactly this way. Everyone around us was SO YOUNG, but it felt like James and I still belonged right there. College was the best, but there’s no going back.

Thanks for the memories, UMM.

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