It didn’t just remind me of how I’d envisioned college — but for the lack of lockers in the halls, it reminded me of how I pictured everyone else’s high school. The current incarnation of Clear Spring High School was built in the mid-1970s. It was a sprawling single story, and on that one story were precisely five hallways, though I think two of them were largely defined by the placement of portable chalkboards and partitions. It was an open school. There weren’t so much classrooms as class areas. In fact, except for my art classes and the history courses taught by Ashley’s dad, I don’t think any of my high school career was spent in a proper room with four walls and a door.
I always felt cheated that Clear Spring didn’t look like the schools I saw in The Wonder Years or The NeverEnding Story. Amplifying my disillusionment was the fact that the old high school had stood directly across from my house. Pap and I went inside it a few times before they tore it down. It had been abandoned for years, and vandalized. The classrooms were empty, the walls were sprayed over with graffiti and the ceilings were falling down, but it still gave me the idea of what a school was supposed to look like. Knutti Hall today was like that, like the old high school must have been in its heyday, with echoing corridors, and stairwells curling up from floor to floor.
After I had met with my advisor in Knutti and registered for my fall classes (which I was allowed to do unassisted in a computer lab in White Hall, and took about thirty seconds), Ashley took me to the library. She showed me the chairs where she liked to sit and read when she was a Shepherd student. Things have changed around campus even in the three years since she graduated — the Nursing department’s new building is located right across from her old dorm, where there used to be a parking lot — but her big cushy chair in the library is still there, as is the “secret” back stairwell which lets you bypass the second floor lobby and enter right in the middle of the stacks.
Somewhere in the middle of all this, we had lunch at the Blue Moon Café, a little place right across the street from White Hall. It’s the sort of place I imagine more social students taking their Wi-Fi equipped laptops to hang out between classes. It’s also the perfect setting for live coffeehouse music and poetry readings — in fact, Ashley organized a poetry reading there for a class her last semester. She told me one guy was so nervous to get up and recite that his knees were literally knocking together. The poor bastard actually had to stop and whisper some kind of mantra to calm himself, although Ashley said it didn’t seem to do him much good.
I feel good about today. I see real opportunities opening up in the next few years. There’s a real student newspaper at Shepherd, though I’m not sure how good a journalist I’d be, and a campus radio station that might be fun, assuming I can weasel my way in. And for what seems like the millionth time, I feel truly fortunate to have waited as long as I did. Yeah, it is a pain in the ass in many respects to be going to college at age 28, when I’d be a few years into my career by now if I’d gone right out of high school. But being older, being here by choice rather than by momentum, and being able to remember what it’s like to work a joyless job for a tiny paycheck allow me to feel something that I think escapes a lot of the guys and girls who come to college right out of high school. It’s gratitude I feel most of all, gratitude for the chance to go to school, to study and improve myself and make a better life.
God, that sounds fucking corny and naïve. But it’s true. I’m right where I want to be.