It's a long way in the past for me, that first day of college, but the memory has been jolted by some emails as a friend's daughter heads off to Bard this afternoon for her first day.
I was an old hand ~ two boarding schools behind me, one of them really just down the road in western Massachusetts. Add three summer camps in three states, and I was well experienced in starting afresh, in a new place with new people. (Too experienced, perhaps, which might explain why I haven't budged from Cleveland Heights in thirty-six years.)
But I was terrified. Go figure.
My dad took me to college, to Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Massachusetts (from which I would eventually transfer, but that's another story). The landscape was familiar ~ the rolling hills brushed with a faint tinge of autumn color, the hundred-year-old dorms and classroom buildings, the tiny town. I knew it all well from my boarding school life. The all-female population represented my accustomed milieu. But I was bursting with anticipatory anxiety, and could hardly believe that my dad wanted to stop for lunch in Amherst. He had gone to Williams, an arch-rival of Amherst's in football, and I'm sure that he was re-living his own college days ~ but I wanted to get on with it.
And so, finally, we arrived on the steps of Pearsons Hall. (And yes I found a picture! My room was in the middle section, I think on the third floor.) I remember two details: the sweat dripping down my belly under my flimsy and very short dark green and brown patterned India Imports dress (purchased in neighboring Northampton a couple of years earlier), and the sound of Rod Stewart's Maggie May emanating from an open window. ("Wake up, Maggie, I think I've got something to say to you . . It's late September and I really should be back at school . . ".) I always think of the first day of college when I hear that song.
My roommate was from St. Paul. A boarding school friend materialized, miraculously, down the hall; she was from Greenwich and her new roommate was from Brooklyn. (In high school, she had roomed with a girl from Florida.) Another girl from Ohio and three others from New England states made up the group of eight who were to become my primary crowd for that freshman year.
Months afterward, one of those girls would remark that she had been in awe of my self-confidence when, later that afternoon, I breezed into her room to ask if anyone had a pencil. "I was hiding out on my bed, and you acted as if you owned the place," she said. "That's boarding school," I laughed. "You're scared all the time, there are always new beginnings, and you just plow forward."
Good luck to Hannah, and Lucy (headed for Northampton!), and all the other young people plowing forward in the weeks ahead!