One ‘First Day of School’ sticks out amongst the seventeen academic geneses I’ve undergone in my life. The year was sixth grade and it was a year of drastic, life-altering change, particularly for my fragile eleven-year old mind. After growing up in Kansas City, albeit in three separate houses, my family had transplanted to the very different world of Lexington, Kentucky, leaving me with no friends, scant confidence and an initial abrasiveness to the southern drawl which seemed so ubiquitous around there. Making matters worse, sixth grade served as my first year of middle school, a fairly severe change in terms of responsibility given the dynamic class structure and more serious approach to schoolwork.
Luckily, given it was a private school (Mary Queen of the Holy Rosary woot woot), a uniform was required saving me from the FDoS what-to-wear-jitters. However, I will always remember wearing these hideous, blue And 1 shoes that I had just bought the day prior, vaguely proud of their freshness but primarily frightened over what people would think. About the shoes, but mostly what their opinion would be of me. I had never met a soul in that entire building upon walking through those downtrodden doors on the First Day of School and I was, in a word, terrified. I remember fighting off tears during the National Anthem as it truly hit me that this was just the first day of a long, arduous journey I was being forced to undertake.
Alone, no less.
Yesterday was the first day of classes at Xavier University, the institution of higher learning of my choice. It also officially served as the first First Day of School I had missed since 1996, my first day of Kindergarten under the tutelage of Mrs. Elliott* and the inception of my journey through academia. Since walking across the stage at the Cintas Center some three-and-a-half months ago it has slowly set in that I am no longer a student, but all of the realizations truly coalesced yesterday as I watched my roommate trudge to school while I sat at home, in bed, watching the most recent episode of Breaking Bad. It was an odd feeling, absolutely, completely unlike anything I had expected it to be a dozen years prior when school felt so interminable.
* At least I think that was her name. I could tell you the name of nearly every other teacher I’ve ever had, save the imbeciles who attempted to guide me through 5th grade at that dreadful Lee’s Summit school, but for whatever reason I’m blanking on my first one ever. Oh well.
In retrospect, the beauty of FDoS’s is the promise they provide. They’re the entreé into a year’s worth of knowledge and advisement, life lessons and unforgettable memories, successes and failures. Schools change and responsibilities heighten and the severity of the academic undertaking increases, but after a handful one grows accustomed to the routine. Of the forced awkwardness of the First Day, sure, but also what lies beyond. It becomes a familiar part of your yearly routine, a mix of dread over summer’s end and excitement over rejoining your peers for seven hours a day, five days a week (save holidays), although I’m sure the ratio of dread to excitement ranges fairly severely from student to student.
They are all students, though, and they are all, as the trope would have it, ‘works in progress’. School implies education, in turn implying an unfinished product requiring additional work before they are sent out to the world. It’s a slow, seemingly unending process, and one which students yearn to end more-or-less every year along the way. The routine of school and summer, with the inimitable First Day of School serving as the dividing line between the two, is all students know, and while they yearn to break free it is only because they do not know what lies on the other side. As the saying goes, the grass is not always greener on the other side.
And yet this all does not matter. Years of schooling varies for everyone due to a variety of reasons but everyone eventually reaches its conclusion. Upon putting the finishing touches on that final paper, filling in that final bubble on those blasted Scantron slips and finally, amazingly, gracefully (hopefully) walking across that stage in front of a dozen family members and thousands of your peers, you have been deemed a finished product. Well, not a finished product; humans are constantly changing and evolving, not always growing necessarily but always fluctuating. But societally you are now expected to enter the world and, using your years of preparation both in academic fields of study and, especially, in what it takes to be a fully functioning member of society, to make an impact. To become part of the solution to at least one of the ceaseless problems facing our world.
Essentially, graduating from college, and effectively ending your initial stage of accumulation in life, is the final bastion in ‘growing up’. It’s a phrase that has occupied nearly every thought I’ve had for months now, and one I will largely skirt here to keep the word count low. However, one thing I have grown quite sure of is that school is intended to help you grow up into the person you will be (or meant to be, if you prefer your morals to be saccharine and comforting) and upon completing school you should at least have a grasp on who you want to be. This realization has terrified me for months and will continue to inhabit the back of my mind for the foreseeable future.
But that’s sort of the point.
See I’ve spent twenty three years on the earth searching for answers
Til’ one day I realized I had to come up with my own
On that First Day of School ten years ago, as I walked into my downtrodden homeroom and deposited my freshly covered textbooks into a cubby (yes, a cubby) I was alone and terrified. I was entering a brand new school with no friends, new or old, and a pair of shoes I’d rather forget about owning. It was not one of my finer days. And yet it was an essential stepping stone in my lifelong process of education, leading me to this day, well yesterday, of no longer needing a First Day of School. I am far from a finished product, despite my implication a couple paragraphs earlier, and am still a highly flawed individual who frequently lacks self-confidence and remains rather unsure of the finer points of calculus.
But unlike that dreadful day a decade ago I am now prepared to make my own answers, as the quote above suggests. That Kendrick Lamar quote, ribbed from his incredible outro to his breakthrough mixtape Section.80, epitomizes the graduation process, not only the literal conclusion of school but also the transition between societal roles. For as long as I can remember, essentially as long as I’ve been capable of remembering, I’ve been classified as a student. I’ve obviously held part-time jobs and there were countless times last year, particularly my final semester of school, where I hardly qualified given my attendance or lack thereof. But that’s who I was, to the federal government on official paperwork, to my parent’s friends when I was discussed and, most importantly, to myself.
Now, I am no longer that.
I’m merely a human being with positive and negative aspects. Potential for both interminable success and unending demise. I’m twenty-two years old and, finally, done with First Days of School. Forgive the cliché but I am now on my First Day of Life (well, yesterday) and, while still terrified, I’m not fighting back tears. I’m not all alone. It’s an even more arduous journey but also far more rewarding. Most of all, I’m ready. I’m grown up.
And I’m still rocking ugly shoes.