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Commentary: Back to School

Photo courtesy of Alexandr Podvalny | Pexels

Summer is for vegetating in front of a TV screen and slumping around like a lobotomized moose. Everyone knows that. If you even begin to employ “critical thinking skills,” the Thought Police will be at your doorstep before you can say “new normal.”

But not to fret, the transition into fall won’t shift your languid lifestyle all too much. Instead of the boob tube, now you’ll be withering away in front of a Powerpoint slide with the title in Comic Sans.

So the first day of school is here. You’re well-equipped with all the Walmart paraphernalia you could get your parsimonious pinkies on. Masks are still required in the classrooms, much to your chagrin. Say what you want about it— they’re a great way to cloak a French onion soup lunch. Everyone’s relating their summer escapades, using ardent, imaginative descriptions: “How was your summer?” “Good.” Sometimes “pretty good.” Never “great.” Maybe a “really good” if they’re the talkative type.

It’s the same thing when talking about movies: “How was that ninth ‘Police Academy’ flick?” “Really pretty good.”

Just then, the professor enters. Everyone holds their breath… and their flatulence.

Class always commences with the first-day roll call; professors treat it like an Obama Apology Tour. “Alright, class, I’m going to take attendance to ensure everyone who’s supposed to be here is here. Sorry in advance if I mispronounce your name. I’m notorious for butchering names.” Always with the airy laugh, too, like they’re expecting some unpaid intern in the back to hit the sitcom laugh track button. What’s that even supposed to mean, “I’m notorious for butchering names?” It’s like saying, “I’m notorious for brushing my teeth.” Then they proceed to fritter away the rest of the class period in feigned expiation: “Gabriel?” “It’s actually ‘Gabreel.’” “Gabreel, ah, okay, that was my next guess.” Eventually, students should just say, “To hell with this” and tell the professor, “You know what, we forgive you. Not everyone can pronounce ‘John Smith’ on their first go.”

With that out of the way, professors transition to the monotonous “going through” the syllabus. If I had my druthers, this is how the exchange would go: Professor: “Did you all read the syllabus?” Class: “Yes.” Professor: “Okay, then what the hell are we doing here? Class adjourned.”

Plus, despite having classes in-person, and despite having the CEO of Zoom on your hit list, I suspect most of us are still pining for that “faceless box” stunt we could pull during that infernal period of online classes. You know, sign in, turn off the camera, and while away the hour counting the gum stains on the bottom of your chair, or browsing the Wikipedia page of Marty Martin… anything but being present in class. Then again, with in-person classes, I suppose you could set down one of those little name tents on your desk, flip off the professor, and say “see you scrubs later.”

At least, upon arriving, students weren’t subjected to their eighty-ninth COVID test. Last time, I was told they swabbed my nose and out came chunks of my hippocampus… but I don’t have any memory of that.

For me, the move-in process went off without a hitch, that is, unless you count the incident in which my five-pound poster plummeted to the floor at four in the morning and clanged against the AC unit. Verily, I tell you, the walls in Jewett are so masterfully designed that even a feather couldn’t stick to them. It was like the “Twas the Night Before Christmas” poem by Clement Clarke Moore: “And Colin in his boxer shorts, and his neighbors blasting rap, had just settled their brains for a long first week’s nap, when from Room 208 there arose such a clatter, Colin jolted awake, wondering what the hell was the matter.” The next morning, my hallmates inquired as to what the source of the clamor was.

“I was practicing my gong, of course.”

And finally, the dining hall has received an upgrade yet again. The new self-serve option shows their admirable dedication to promoting a well-balanced diet; instead of having a dining hall employee serve you three slices of cake, you can now serve yourself three slices of cake. And lucky for you, there are more booths and high-tables you can sit in to accomplish this “Matilda”-esque feat— a boon for students, a nightmare for employees. More seating creates the greater likelihood of something being spilled. You got a hapless, smushed kofta meatball on the carpet near the entrance… looks like it’ll be there for another couple of years… screeching for help like the Wicked Witch of the West… a landmine of crushed cheerio dust has mysteriously spread across the floor of the cereal bar… just to hop-scotch across that crumbly plain, it’s like avoiding vengeful geysers… strings of cheese are found haphazardly strewn over the vicinity, like someone popped one of those confetti cannons…

But, food fight remnants notwithstanding, the food is really pretty good.

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