It’s only been within the past few years that I have fully recognized January 1 as the start of a new annual cycle. Before then, my mind “knew” that 11:59 pm on December 31 signaled the end of one measure of time and that a new one commenced at midnight – but my body recognized and lived by a different annual clock. Until very recently, every August something deep in my subconscious acknowledged a transition from old to new – and every September a sizable part of my core being met the month with a mixture of giddiness, anticipation, and anxiety, preparing for the start of a new year. Though I was approaching middle age, part of my life was still being “regulated” by the American academic calendar.
Growing up, my mom, sister, and I employed a “school preparation” routine every summer, which included one mass day of shopping for new clothes (often in a big city like Chicago or Indianapolis) and one afternoon of school supply stock-up. I still remember the genuine joy I felt when choosing my folders and pens, as well as the focused deliberation I put into selecting my first-day-of-school outfit. I still vividly recall the standard Day 1 procedures for elementary, middle, and high school, and I absolutely still have strong memories of registering for my first semester of college courses. At the start of every new school year, I felt a little bit nervous, but more eager and excited than anything else. I adored school, and genuinely delighted in receiving assignments that challenged me to read, comprehend, question, probe, and learn.
When I moved to Minneapolis after college and settled into my “adult” life, I began to realize that the city offers an abundance of high-quality schools, especially at the university level. A few years after starting my career I attended one of these institutions to further my education and receive an advanced degree – which served to further reinforce my body’s understanding that the “new year” occurs in September, not January.
It’s been several years since I’ve been 100% done with school – and yet, every August when I see stores display mass quantities of paper and pens, I still get an urge to buy a backpack and fill it with supplies (even though I have absolutely no “need” to do so). And each September, when I see bright yellow buses driving around the neighborhood, I sigh, a wee bit disappointed that I don’t get to don a carefully selected outfit and join the kids on their ride.
Though I haven’t attended school for eight years, I have had the opportunity to participate in events on nearly every college campus in the metro area. The Fringe Festival took me to the University of Minnesota and Augsburg; educational speakers drew me to Hamline; workshops prompted me to spend time at St. Thomas (both campuses); and my master’s degree was obtained at St. Kates. But one post-secondary school I haven’t yet had a reason to visit is Macalester. So when I made my 101 list, I decided to put “Check out the student union at Macalester” on it, if for no other reason than to be able to say that I knew at least a little bit about the key universities in the Twin Cities.
The start of a new academic year felt like the right time to complete this task; so earlier today I drove across town to Macalester’s intimate campus, and spend some time walking around. I poked my head into buildings, took in the sights as I strolled from one end of the quad to the other, and just generally explored the space. Here are the notes from my venture:
- I was impressed by the abundance of free on-campus parking; it puts all of the other metro colleges to shame.
- The campus felt like a hybrid of Indiana University (where I completed my undergraduate studies) and St. Kates – and I loved that Macalester was an enclosed campus (especially amid a semi-unsavory part of the city…).
- The school’s library was semi-modern, but it smelled exactly like the stacks at IU. I guess true academic texts smell the same no matter where they are, nor how long they have been there.
- The class buildings also smelled exactly like the ones at IU – but the classrooms were tiny! Each one I saw had a mere 15-20 desks/chairs in it; and I couldn’t find a single 300+ seat lecture hall (where is the environment in which I completed all of my 100-level classes).
- The “student union” consisted of a dining hall on the first floor (which I learned was the only dining hall on campus), an open-air lounge/study area on the second floor, and a TV room/pool hall/mail room on the lower level – and that was it. Hmm… Very “spartan” compared to the student union at IU. I even asked the student staffing the information desk, “Um…is this the student union?”, and was told that yes, it is. Okay, thanks…
- However, beautiful student art adorned the space – which I definitely appreciated. This academic community has a lot of talent!
- I was impressed by the visible diversity within the on-campus student population. I saw a good number of people from every major race and ethnic group (which is particularly noteworthy for a school in Minnesota!). I also saw what seemed to be a decent diversity among the student’s socio-economic statuses and social interests (i.e., introvert/extrovert, athletic/studious, comfortable-popular/awkward-nerdy, etc.).
I allocated 2-3 hours for my campus visit so that I could leisurely walk around and spend as much time as I wanted to look at whatever struck my fancy (which I did). But after 45 minutes, I realized I had seen the entire campus (except for the residence halls; I didn’t think it was appropriate for an adult stranger to snoop around the student’s dorm rooms…) I gave the campus a final once-over to make sure I hadn’t overlooked anything significant – and nope, I didn’t see anything more to explore. So I returned to my car, gave the campus a wave goodbye, and drove back home.
I had a fantastic undergraduate experience (both academically and socially), and I wouldn’t change it. But, I could see myself deeply enjoying this school, too. Maybe in another life – or later in this one? 🙂