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Twilight Of Summer
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Twilight Of Summer
A reflection on my first days of college, my hopes for the coming year, and advice for all new students.
[1,169 words]
Charles Cotterman
[September 2002]
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Twilight Of Summer
Charles Cotterman

August 23rd, 2002.
One week, and I'll be back in College Park, Maryland. And once again, my life, already altered in the last 2 months, will change in a million more ways.

I'll arrive to my new dorm room with a year of college under my belt. I'll watch nervous mothers and impatient fathers unload clothing, televisions, and newly bought computers that they are sure must have been the height of technology, even though their speedy little microprocessors became obsolete while they were passing through the check-out line at Best Buy.

Mothers will cry, Fathers will tap their foot and look at their watches. Siblings will look bored, yet refuse to help. And the new students will participate in a mass phenomenon present only among college freshmen.

As their families pull away in the minivan, or station wagon, or four door sedan, these freshmen will be seized by a feeling you don't feel often in your life. They will be momentarily frozen, unsure of whether they should walk to their new home-away-from-home, or run after the departing vehicle.

This isn't to say that older students aren't also seized by this strange mix of compulsions; rather, they know they can't run after the car. Freshmen don't yet know that.

My first year at UMCP taught me a great many things. Lessons I learned, but refused to follow. Lessons I will follow this year, into my Sophomore stint in a structure suited to sardines.

That's the dorm room, not the college itself. See, freshmen go into this with complete blindness. In probably 75% of cases, they walk into a room, meet a complete stranger, and that night, sleep in the same room with them. If they've always had a room to themselves, the breathing that isn't their own can keep them awake for hours, and so they wait until absolute exhaustion to set in before hitting the pillow.

This is one advantage I have over the freshmen. When I move in, I will be participating in a coordinated effort to hide a portable air-conditioning unit from the UMCP staff, as well as an illegally sized fridge (it has an actual freezer! With a separate door!) that will no doubt accommodate hundreds of various beverages. We will attempt to arrange the 27 inch Sony Wega (Vega?) flat tube TV, and the PS2, along with the BOSE surround sound system, so as to please and entertain us in the most efficient fashion. After all this, we have to set up our computers, move the furniture to our liking, and then, finally, leave space for a small couch.

I know all of this because I will be moving in with my friend Dan. He and I met at orientation last year, where we proceeded to call our Orientation Advisor "Matt Damon" (actual name: Steve Wood) because he looked so much like the movie star. Then we laughed at him, because it broke the ice for our entire group. Then we scowled at him, because we realized that, in looking like Matt Damon, he got way more chicks than we did.

After this, Frisbee and late night punk music with Hans (The Chinese guy from Iowa who has a German name) allowed all 3 of us to become infinitely more accustomed to collegiate life.

Anyway, we decided to be roommates last year, trying our utmost to get into the air conditioned dorms, but failing (hence the portable, and not quite legal, alternative). His girlfriend is an RA, and has a single room--translation: Sometimes, I'll have the room to myself, as opposed to last year, when my room was constantly occupied by one or more considerably sloppy guys. Not only will he leave sometimes (I actually don't mind his presence--like I said, he's a good friend, and we get along really well. The motivation behind being pleased with this is that occasionally, I watch completely annoying TV), he's also obsessively neat. Hopefully, I'll become obsessively neat as well.

Another advantage? His girlfriend is great. She's a good friend of mine who helped me through a couple of really tough situations last semester. Hopefully, she'll help me out with the female situation by introducing me to some girls I haven't met.

Briefly: Yes, I am single, and I will be venturing--rather, spelunking (no sexual connotations--seriously) into the depths of college dating. This scares me, and should scare all single people.

Back to the freshmen.

They will wander their first few days around campus, and when it comes time to actually be somewhere with a purpose in mind, they will become completely lost. The campus is not a large college, it's a small town. They'll either fall into their own pattern or never quite find it. You can spot the confused much more easily than the self assured: they radiate concern for their appearance, and not just their hair. They want to walk the right way, look the right way, talk correctly and listen to everyone. Most of them end up becoming dorm junkies, spending all of their time in their room, so as not to be forced to deal with such choices.

Almost none of these people end up lasting more than a semester. They run after the vehicle that has already departed, burning themselves out, and either failing or leaving by choice.

When you go to college, remember this: Even if you are one in a million, with about 2 billion in the U.S. alone (let's just keep that figure, it's an out-and-out guess), there are about 2,000 people out there that are similar to you. At least a few of them have probably ended up on whatever campus you will reside in. Look at clubs, if you see something that intrigues you, sign up. You aren't required to actually go, not even once. But if you end up going, and like it, you'll meet friends.

When that car rounds a corner, or moves beyond the crest of the nearest hill, all of us will be standing there, frozen. We will hotly anticipate the unknown--living with a friend or stranger, as opposed to our families, having to make sure to remember meals, sleeping when we want to. But we will also yearn for a quiet, empty room of our own, a fully stocked fridge that contains food we didn't pay for, and a full sized couch. We will wonder if the exchange of the house, alive with the sounds of our families, for a dorm, alive with the sounds of strangers, is worth it. At 6:30 AM, 2 1/2 hours until a 9 AM class, we will either be happy to have the freedom to make such a foolish decision, or wish our mother had told us to go the hell to sleep. Remember, we can always go home again, and we have the summer, and our families (at least, our mothers) call often enough to placate us. And while we may want to separate, go back to our past, and live simpler lives, we are all in this future, in this same rocking, frightening boat, together.



"I found this story to have many important insights, that I had not as of yet considered. I feel that it did leave out a broad spectrum of possibilities of freshman. Maybe this is only UMCP specific, but I have met several freshman including myself who don't fit neatly into a 50/50 divide. I wish the author the best of luck with his illeagal endevours and I hope that everyone has a pleasant school year." -- Rebecca .
"Not UMCP specific, but we all have our car experience." -- Charlie.
"While I feel that this elaborate, yet well written piece probaly captures the true essence of college for the author himself, he forgot about expanding on all the finer points of college...the freedom, freedom, and more freedom. Dont scare us away before we have yet to arrive!" -- Jessica.
"Well, the freedom, freedom and freedom are already there! That's why I want so badly to go back. Soon, soon... That's why I wrote the stuff about my roommate. Don't worry, college may be a little scary at first... but then it gets so good you don't want to leave, ever!" -- Charlie.
"it sucks" -- Rose, chicago, IL.


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© 2002 Charles Cotterman
August 2002

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