This past January, a little more than a week into phase three, calendar year six and semester 12 – excluding summer terms – of my college career, I paused.
I literally paused. In the middle of the sidewalk, in the middle of the seventh of what would be roughly 6,000 treks up the infernal Mount College Street, in the middle of the frigid rain that tapped, tapped, tapped against my jacket, nudging me ever closer to the brink of insanity.
Why the heck am I here? I asked myself, standing in the middle of menacing brown shards that were once a bottle of Bud Light.
This semester, for the first time since the fall of 1998, I was a full-time college student. I left a job in Glasgow, for which I was paid to do work, and came back to school, where I pay to do work.
For much of this semester, I haven’t been happy about that. As my Glasgow High School algebra teacher Mrs. Patterson can verify, I’ve long despised the concepts of “assignments” and “homework.” But what choice do I have? It’s college – the only place where the customer is never right.
(I should use this opportunity to publicly apologize to Mrs. Patterson for unapologetically underachieving in her classes for three full years. It was nothing personal – it was the math. As Butt-head would say, “I’m angry at numbers.” Hence, I write.)
So I soldier on toward my elusive diploma, only because I long ago passed the point where I was sick and tired of doing school work. Finally I have a graduation date in sight – December 2003.
But it’s May, and people are actually graduating in a few days. Why in heaven’s name is this delinquent writing a graduation commentary? Honestly, I have no idea. I was asked to do it, and these are my thoughts on the matter:
I understand it’s a significant occasion. It’ll be significant for me, but in more of a “great weight lifted” than a “raise the roof” way.
Still, I don’t buy into that “$40,000 for a piece of paper” talk. College is a privilege that too many of us take for granted. The education is an obvious benefit, but it turns out that those speechifying college recruiters were right – it’s the experience that really matters.
I transferred from Georgetown College in the spring of 1999, and it’s not often that I find myself missing that school. It was the wrong place, wrong time for me.
But I know there’s at least one thing I’ll miss about Western. Not the classes, of course, and not the yo-yoing between the Hill and my apartment in Glasgow. Not the breathless climbs up College Street after I staunchly refused to pay for a parking tag.
Question my manhood if you must, but I’ll miss the way the afternoon sun slips through the trees and around buildings in late fall.
Call it dusk, call it the gloaming, whatever. As the day winds down and the campus crowd thins, the fading daylight turns the Hill into one of the most inviting, comforting places on Earth.
Perhaps more than anything else, that’s why the heck I’m here.
I imagine that most of this month’s graduates won’t retain much of the academic side of college. Many will delete the program the moment President Ransdell slaps a diploma into their hands.
But all of us will remember something else, like my lame sun fetish, like football games, like a party, like the day you met the person you’d eventually marry, like sitting outside with nothing to do and nowhere to go but waiting for someone to see.
Whatever it is, that’s why the heck we were here.
And one day, many years from today – no matter how long it took you to finally get out of here – part of you will wish you never left.
After this semester, Daniel Pike will be a senior print journalism major from Glasgow.
The opinions expressed in this commentary represent only those of the writer, and not of the Herald or of Western Kentucky University.