Thursday, August 13, 2015

My First Day At College

Of course, it’s Thursday, and that means participating in Mama Kat’s Writer’s Workshop, hosted by Kat Bouska, who has the FAQ here. The prompt I’m choosing is this:

Share a back to school memory.

Here goes…

September 16, 1974 was a sunny day in the Chicago area, just starting to get cool but not quite “sweater weather.” It was almost nine o’clock in the morning, and I was sitting in a classroom, with the shades drawn, in a decrepit building, with 29 strangers, needing a cup of coffee and a cigarette, and not really wanting to be there.

Welcome to Freshman Orientation at Northwestern University.

A middle-aged professor with a haircut like Brother Juniper came into the room, welcomed us, and we did the usual go-around-the-room-and-introduce-yourself thing: What’s your name? Where are you from? What’s your major? What dorm are you living in?

I didn’t hear most of the introductions; I was too busy trying to figure out what I was going to say. They got to me and I told them I was John Holton, I was from Northfield, Illinois, and I was thinking of being a math major. I stopped and smiled.

“What dorm are you living in, John?” Brother Juniper asked.

“Uh, I’m local. I’m living at home.”

Half the room turned and looked at me with “oh, you poor bastard” looks on their faces. I smiled and shrugged, and thought, so this is what the next four years are going to be like.

After introductions, Brother started going over some logistical issues, and he reminded us that most of us would have to take foreign language tests on Wednesday. Naturally, I had to chime in that I would have to take Latin. More “poor bastard” looks. Some sniggering at the crazy commuter. I wanted to climb under the floor and vanish.

A few minutes later, the hour was over, and we all got up and left. I found myself standing on Sheridan Road, wondering what to do now. I considered walking back up Foster Street, getting on the train, and going home, never to return. I would have, too, except the Wil-Bus (which would take me home) had stopped running until 3 that afternoon. Might as well find that cup of coffee, I thought, lit a cigarette, and headed toward the cafeteria.

from The Sound of One Hand Typing


  1. I admit I don't remember my first day of university. However, I unfortunately remember my first day of grad school because it was 9-11, and even though I am in Canada, the world here stood still.

    1. That certainly made the day memorable. That was an awful day. I had family in New York and New Jersey, and called them as soon as I was able. Fortunately, no one was anywhere near Ground Zero.

  2. Well I hope it got easier after that. Thanks for stopping by my blog and leaving your message. Cat free home feels a bit strange but I don't think it will stay that way for too long.

    1. As Hemingway said, one cat just leads to another. We've always had a bunch; right now we're at nine, and we've decided no more until this batch is gone. But with us, you never know.

      I was lucky in that a lot of friends from grade school and high school were at the university. They were all in the same boat, living at home. There was the Off-Campus Student Association, which gave us a way to connect and was the "voice" of students who didn't live in the dorms or the fraternity and sorority houses. So it ended up OK, but I ended up transferring to a different university in my third year; I wanted to major in business and they didn't have an undergraduate business school. Actually transferred to where I had wanted to go all along.