This might be my last first day of school.
Well, sort of. I realize that I’ve got another semester after this, and technically those will be all new classes, but I only get the true Back To School Sensation when, as Fitzgerald says, “life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall.” It doesn’t matter if school starts in August or October – on the first day of school, I view everything through a frame of rustling, reddish leaves. Back To School smells like the spice of crunching foliage underfoot, like the fresh wax of a new box of crayons, like the curlicue wood shavings emptied from a pencil sharpener. And Back To School has all the potential of a freshly sharpened pencil, smoothing perfectly from school-bus-yellow barrel to graphite spear point.
Never mind that I haven’t actually used crayons for school since 5th grade, or that it’s August and smells more like a campfire than spicy leaves outside (thank you, wildfires). No matter what year it is, Back To School is a comforting blend of fresh start and familiarity. Everything is new and clean and open, but I also know already that I’m good at it.
Some of the comfort has departed from this particular First Day of School in that it is no longer one in a reassuringly lengthy series. For the first time in my life, I don’t know what I’m going to be doing next year. Even during other transition years in my academic career, I knew, in broad terms, my plan. High school, whether B or C (I picked B). College, whether B, P, or W (I went with W). Essentially, the plan was always More School.
That’s an option here, too. I could go to grad school. I took the GRE in the hopes of keeping that avenue open. I could choose to stay at my undergrad university or go somewhere else. I rather like the sound of an advanced degree.
But it’s not a given, like all the other times have been. The decision is no longer a formality. And depending on which choice I make, this could be my last first day until my own child dashes off into a kindergarten classroom, backpack full of crayons and safety scissors.
So forgive me, fellow college seniors who are too cool for school, if I ruin our collective jaded image by joining Nemo in excitedly chanting “First day of school! First day of school! First day of school!”