The Last First Days
I’ve been in school since I was three years old, and I feel that 18 years of education is enough for now. I don’t plan on a career that will require graduate school, which makes these past few weeks my Last First Days of School.
It was the last time I’ll undertake the grueling five-day packing process. That’s four days of staring at the empty bags and suitcases hauled down from the attic, and one frantic day of loading them full of nine months’ worth of clothes, shoes, beauty products, decorations, and school supplies. The third-grader in me was grief-stricken, trolling the aisles at Staples on the hunt for the best felt-tip pens, the most pristine four-subject notebooks, and the brightest Post-It notes, knowing I would never do it again with the same exciting anticipation for the year ahead.
The six-hour drive to Canton has become a ritual for my father and me. Four years in a row I’ve made empty promises to split the driving time, instead taking over the passenger’s seat and, of course, the AUX cord. At the end of this past August, realizing that we were en route to my very last move-in day at St. Lawrence, the ride was bittersweet.
We reached Canton after four large iced coffees between us and the subsequent million bathroom breaks, passing migrant packs of first-years being herded along by their Orientation Leaders. I’ll admit I was smug, watching them from the car window as we drove by dorm after dorm on our way to the Senior Townhouses. It was one of those “Look how far I’ve come” moments, with a hint of senioritis and an inflated ego.
All of this, flooding through my head, was kept in check only by the memories of my own very first days here—the first days of three years ago, which seem much closer to me in my “rearview mirror” than the real timeline would suggest.
When I was a first-year it took me two weeks to build up the courage to eat at the Pub. Our Orientation Leaders had brought us to Dana for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and once they’d let go of our proverbial hands, it was all I knew. I ate only from the salad bar because it had the shortest line, anxious as I was to be seated and talking with the people in my FYP (see: trying desperately to make friends). “The River”, “The Townhouses”, and “Pub 56” were just the tip of an iceberg made of campus buzzwords that I didn’t understand yet; I felt like I was standing on the stoop, knocking on the door of a clubhouse that I didn’t yet know the password to get into.
It got better—it got so, so much better, snowballing throughout the semester as months and then years went by. Each year at St. Lawrence I’ve found an uncharted level of social and campus involvement, a new and acute sense of belonging; discovered more challenges with which to round out my educational experience, all in the interest of cultivating myself as a valued, participant member in the community that continues (and will continue, for the rest of my life) to give me so much.
Most of the time, all of this is set in motion in the very first days of the fall semester. As a first-year, I was awe-struck to realize how vigorously my fellow Saints were “going after it”—meaning anything that interested or excited them or even simply peaked their curiosity—right out of the gate. Our assimilation is immediate. Roommates, fellow FYP-ers, sports teams, too many clubs to count; the unconditional support and encouragement of innumerable organizations warms you to this place in your first moments on campus. Take it from me: by the time your last first days roll around, that warmth has grown red hot, an irrevocable love for the school that welcomed you so long ago. It still continues to do so with the same enthusiasm again, and again, and again.
I didn’t always love it here. It’s hard to imagine, sitting here as I am on the porch of my Townhouse with two of my best friends, housemates, lounging by my side. It’s a beautiful day, and our neighbors are actively making use of the vast lawn that our houses share. Frisbees are flying and music is blasting from three different blocks; the sun is shining; somewhere a grill is firing up, and I’m about to go and find it. These are the golden moments—the ones that one day we won’t believe were commonplace, and the ones that make it impossible to remember a day when St. Lawrence wasn’t so truly home. The literal and figurative rainy days come and go, but these are the shiny memories that last and last.
I’m secure in the knowledge that there will be many more days like this, though in a different sense I know that this is naive. It’s the first few weeks of the semester and right now it feels infinite, this one last year of school ahead. In nine months, we’ll watch the sunrise just yards from where I’m sitting now, only hours away from Commencement, and it will feel like only seconds have passed since this moment. Today, however, I revel in what seems to be countless classes, Senior Blues nights, and weekends ahead with the people I love; endless possibilities; infinite arguments, conversations, and fits of laughter.
I love the first days of school because as hectic as they are while we scramble to find our footing, they’re really the ‘calm before the storm’. Today we’re on the brink of something, just on the edge, about to dive deep into the best year of our lives. I know that so much time lies ahead, days and nights in which we will live and love fiercely, laugh openly, and speak openly with the dichotomous, self-conscious confidence of people so young.
St. Lawrence means the world to me. There’s no better way to phrase it, although it’s clichéd. St. Lawrence means the world to me because on days like this, “St. Lawrence” and “My World” are one in the same. This is where I became a person. This is where I composed myself in one fleeting moment and enlisted a friend to show me how to write a Pub order; this is where I learned that I have ideas and words worth sharing; this is where I met the people that will help me shape the rest of my life.
Our last first days are remarkably bittersweet. This should surprise no one. Never again will we have an entire year of simple togetherness ahead of us, as we proceed to far off corners of the world and put our invaluable educations to use. Many of us will never move into a dorm again. Most will find that a day spent simply floating down the river alongside our favorite people will never be a commonplace thing, as it is today.
This is not to say that I envy the first-years my father and I drove past just weeks ago. I wouldn’t go back, would not do it all again—my days here are numbered, but I’ve finally figured out just how I wish to spend them. I know who I am when I walk into a room. There are places where I ‘belong’ and with which I am familiar, but I am now just as confident in those that are new. All of this I’ve done here on this campus, and in my first three years; this last one is simply the icing on the cake. “You’ve made it,” the school says, “now enjoy the last ride (but don’t forget to work hard)” and I’m listening intently.
I wouldn’t do it again here, not because I didn’t enjoy my time, but because I’m about to replicate the process of these four years on the grandest scale there is. The entire globe awaits us, the one our Saints have all traversed. As we’ve seen our network in action again and again, they are waiting for us, too. Our options are limitless: to follow in the footsteps of the Laurentians who came before, across time zones and borders and oceans, or to find our own corners to which more of us will follow in the years to come.
These last first days draw our training to a close. We are nearly ready for the big event—the long term, the real-world application of all that we’ve learned. Heads up, Saints, and keep your eyes open. Allow yourselves to love these numbered days for what they are, not mourn them for what they won’t always be. There are infinitely more pools to dive into.