The Seasons of Student Affairs – Fall
The academic year. Except for the first four years, I have lived my entire life by the rhythms of the academic calendar. Ask me what year I got married and I’ll tell you 1989-90. Ask me when I started to work at one university or another and it doesn’t matter whether I started in September or in February, I’ll tell you what academic year it was. And it doesn’t hurt that my birthday is in the summer so each of my years fits neatly into an academic year. I don’t think I’m all that unusual in this because for most of us in Student Affairs, or in the academic world as a whole, the reality is that the calendar begins in August.
August - hot and miserable, when the possibility of a cool evening seems far away and a cold day is just a faint memory - is really the beginning of the Fall Semester. It is the beginning of another new year, with another group of new students arriving on campus. So for those of us who make our living on college and university campuses, Fall is not the time of poets when life begins to slow down and to prepare for the long winter. Rather, Fall is full of energy, especially in those very early weeks. It is the time of the year when all things are possible. New programs begin and all have the potential of success. We are surrounded by friends, yet unfamiliar faces are everywhere as new faculty and staff members join with incoming students to recreate the campus community all over again.
Fall is not the time of drifting leaves and long dark nights, though we experience those things mid-semester. Fall is a time of energy. Fall is hot and sometimes frantic because everything has to get started and quickly. The semester is only sixteen weeks long and there is much to do. There is no ramp up time. One day, campus is quiet and nearly deserted with hundreds of empty parking spaces, practically a ghost town with a few people roaming through echoing halls; a short week later, it is a bustling city. At the beginning of the year, nothing is routine. Those new students and faculty and staff members wander lost trying to figure out where they are supposed to be. Lines are long and for a few days there really are no empty parking spaces on campus as everyone is on campus at the same time trying to get started. New students are homesick. The non-traditional students are just as anxious as the younger ones, though often hiding it more effectively. The specific reasons for the tensions vary, but it is all about facing the unfamiliar, jumping off into the unknown with no certainty of a parachute in the new backpacks they are wearing.
Returning students, on the other hand, know they are returning home though their parents don’t like to hear them say it. Sophomores relish the difference in their level of confidence in just one short year. Graduating seniors are ready to enjoy their last year. Confident in their place, they are glad to reconnect with friends, faculty members, mentors and all of the people who make up their campus world. These returning students are ready to shape the campus to fit their needs or for the greater good or maybe both. What a crazy, fun, hectic time of the year.
In an academic year, Fall is the start, the way it all begins. It is full of energy, passion, potential. Once again, we start anew and while the slate may not be completely clean, everyone has another chance to make it all work. No wonder we have been known to wish one another a Happy New Year at the start of the academic year. For amid all the stresses, bumps, tears, hugs, and squeals of joy, it is truly a beginning no matter what the more traditional calendar may show. It is one of the times we remember why we chose this career. It’s the joy of seeing students return and hearing the tales of their summer experiences, the fun of meeting new students and colleagues and learning their stories. Often, in our heart of hearts, we know that we would like to be the ones moving into the residence halls, starting a new semester of classes about topics we never would have chosen the first time around, doing it all over again. (And, okay, I still love to get new school supplies, choose the perfect notebook and pen, only now I call them office supplies.) Fall, yet again, brings us to the start and oh, what fun it is!
Best wishes and Happy New Year,