June 3, 2014

To be a college student

The college experience as depicted through a Saturday at Starbucks.

There’s something unequivocally special about getting up at around 11:45 a.m. on a warm spring day and taking the Red or Green Line somewhere downtown, stepping out of Hyde Park and into the warm, humid air that is the place outside of the UChicago bubble. But last Saturday my friend and I did something different. The advent of 10th week made it infeasible to spend more than one or two hours having fun—the rest would be spent working.

So we went to McDonald’s—the one on Lake Park Avenue—and after finishing our fried, salty, sugary food, we headed to the Starbucks on East 53rd Street.

And as we walked in to get our coffee—as I saw my reflection in the glass window, of my backpack on my back and my slightly rumpled hair and the tilt of my glasses and the facial hair that I’ve been both too intrigued by and too lazy to shave—right then those dumb, artificial, contrived notions of college that we see in the movies, in the books we read, in pictures on Tumblr, all those abstract associations we make of what it means to be in college rushed through my mind.

And we sat there for six hours. And those six hours encapsulated, for me, what it means to be in college: to wake up late and go down to a coffee shop with your wrinkled shirt and fuzzy memory of the night before and discuss ideas with friends—ideas so far removed from the real world that you’re both meta-consciously aware that you’re engaging in a sort of theatrical dance that you’ll only be able to do while in college. That after college this attitude of casual, intellectual nonchalance will be stashed away like a stolen treasure, only to be spoken of in the past tense.

The sun completely changed 53rd Street. The street itself turned into a destination, rather than a stretch of concrete leading to one. The insipid, monotone gray buildings that lined the streets of winter quarter, once monuments of the winter that had beaten my brain into a pulp of melancholy—those buildings beamed, their walls bourgeoning with fresh air. The Hyde Park Bank, once an austere, Soviet-looking structure, radiated with its almost gothic appearance, the green trees adding a spark of intensity to the surrounding street.

And there were those weird fluffy, white balls that fly in the wind, getting caught in our hair and clothes. This grandiose scene of goofy, insouciant college kids drinking coffee and discussing abstruse and emotional ideas for a day was occasionally interrupted by the loud honk of the cars passing us by, our words being drowned out to the silent movement of each other's lips. And each breath felt like it was the first real one I had taken in months.

Experiences like the one I had on Saturday are what make college worth it for me. And as the year comes to an end I worry that I haven’t had enough of them.

Fall quarter was a new, exciting experience—but I needed time to adjust. And just as I did, the cold, slow, stagnant winter began. But this quarter, spring quarter, was the experience I had read about in the University’s pamphlets. And while I have loved every minute of my time here, in the back of my mind it always felt like there was something right outside of my grasp—that if I did something a little bit differently, I would feel what I thought I should feel. And I felt it Saturday.

But the summer is coming. And I’m forced to face this three-month separation: thoughts of relinquished love, of relationships that maybe I haven’t cultivated enough to survive summer, of the incredible social and intellectual growth that I’ve experienced this year possibly coming to a halt until next year. And all of that worries me.

But that’s college.

Andrew Young is a first-year in the College majoring in English.