On Thursday night I made the drive to downtown Omaha for my first graduate school class at Creighton. The first day of school feels the same as it ever did, even as a non-traditional student. And I love it as much as ever, too.
What’s so exciting about a first day of school? The same things that are so wonderful about a blank notebook or an unopened gift or a Saturday afternoon with no appointments: the joy of imagined possibilities without the intrusion of actual results or requirements. Because everything changes after that first day. It never feels quite as good as it does that first time you set out from the house with your empty notebooks and unused pencils.
After that, no matter how interesting or inspired you are, it still doesn’t feel the same. Because now there are also assignments. Deadlines, lists, and midterm exams. There’s still the promise of thrilling discoveries, but with the syllabus in your hand now you know how hard you’re going to have to work to find them.
You’ll have to read hundreds of pages of stuff you don’t totally understand. You’ll have to spend hours on the library website trying to remember which database gives you the best search results. You’re going to have to sacrifice weekend afternoon naps and make choices each week about which football game matters the most to you because you certainly don’t have time for them all.
In short, some of those clean white pages get written on. The open afternoon is shortened when the kids complain that you’re out of milk for cereal. There’s still a lot of opportunity there, but it never feels like the first day again.
That’s probably okay. If everyday was the first day we’d lose out on the experience of seeing exactly what we are capable of producing. We’d never get to see how hard we can work and how much we can learn. We’d miss the discoveries and the pure joy of learning. We’d miss seeing that final grade on the report card. We’d never know how good it feels to look back; as my professor said of himself on Thursday night, “I’m glad I was that guy. I’m glad I did all that really hard work and accomplished something not everyone accomplishes. I’m kinda proud of that guy.”
We’d just be a bunch of kids with empty notebooks. Or, worse, asleep on the couch.
I loved my first day. But now I can’t wait to get to work. Our professor told us we had the privilege this semester of becoming experts in one very small corner of the literary world – one we get to choose for ourselves. That doesn’t happen on the first day.
That happens after the first day.
photo credit: creighton_admissions