The first day of a new semester of college is not the earth-shattering experience it was for us in elementary, junior high and even high school.

Remember how, on the first day of a new school year, we’d be up an hour and a half early? Our outfits were brand-new and carefully selected for maximum impression-making on our new teachers and any potential best friends or crushes a new class might yield. We ate robust, delicious breakfasts for the first time in months (those of us who could keep food down, anyway) and triple-checked that we had every item we’d never need in their designated backpack pockets. After eyeballing the mirror one last time to make sure our appearances were impeccable, we still had 20 minutes, which we spent fidgeting in the living room, exchanging tense or falsely confident words with our parents and/or siblings until we could justify heading out. We’re getting butterflies just remembering it.

At the bus stop, we greeted old friends and tried out our new and improved personality strategies (remember the year you vowed to be so perky, talkative and adorable that you’d be massively popular within weeks?) or images (like that year you were Gothic, or a redhead). We took meticulous notes in every class, organized our papers into folders by subject, and whizzed through our negligible bit of homework the moment we got home.

Fast-forward a few months, and we were in the “so what?” stage. We got up 10 minutes before the bus left, threw on an outfit from the pile on the floor, and left all homework to the morning it was due.

The first day of a college semester does not strike our hearts and stomachs with that same nauseous anticipation that the first days of grades 1-12 did. Perhaps it’s because our whole world for the next nine months is not as dependent on our school life as it was when we were children and teenagers. We have social circles outside of school. We might have time between classes to do homework, take naps or touch up our appearances. We can be done with our classes in time to go home for lunch. Most of our classes are much more geared toward our personal strengths and interests. And, best of all, if we must miss a class, we don’t have to ask our moms to call the secretary with an excuse.

Undoubtedly, there are perks and privileges to being college students that we didn’t have in our lunchbox days. It’s even easy to slip into the mindset that less is expected of us than it was in those days. Some of us are in the “so what?” stage right out of the starting gate.

However, many of us at Weber State University have already learned the hard way that much, much more is expected of us here. Many, if not most, classes require a staggering amount of outside work, including nightly journal entries or reading a novel a week — and that’s just if you want to pass with a ‘C’. If you’re a full-time student, you could be taking four or more classes that require this level of time commitment. That’s not taking into account extracurricular activities, the 1-3 jobs many of us have to have to make ends meet, the spouses and children of a significant percentage of our students, and — almost laughably at this point — the need for some semblance of a social life. When the list of demands gets this overwhelming, students can hardly be blamed for all but giving up on their earnest devotions to their grades.

Those of us who have fallen off the wagon in the past do experience some of those first-day jitters, knowing that so much is riding on our determination to succeed. Maybe we should revert to our new-year vigor that made us do our homework two weeks early and come to school bright-eyed and ready to learn. It’s easy to forget, but the stakes are higher than they were, and there’s no time like the start of the school year to turn over a new leaf.

 

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