after Rick Moody’s “Boys”
Students come. Students come unblemished with stiff new backpacks and unmarked notebooks. Students come with visions of Saturday nights and Monday mornings. Students come with parents heaving heavy boxes and heavy hearts along with refrigerators and mattresses up concrete stairs to expensive concrete walled bedrooms. Students come with siblings clinging to them on the stairs and siblings waving to them absently from filmy backseat windows. Students come bidding farewell to hopeful parents in asphalt parking lots. Students come listening to words of caution and conscience. Students come greedily gulping up the freedom of no curfew and no limitations. Students come to graze the endless buffet of cafeteria staples; pizza, burgers, French fries and potato chips. Students come coyly to tables of potential partners exchanging condiments, snap codes, and sexual tension. Students come to the fitness center to wage war against the pizza, burgers, French fries and potato chips consumed at the cafeteria. Students come nauseated from the excess of freedom and no limitations. Students come from discount stores with unmarked binders, unsharpened pencils, and energy drinks. Students come to front row chairs with sharpened pencils and planners full of promises, but no plans. Students come eagerly to lecture halls and slide into cold metal chairs leaning forward in anticipation. Students come empty-handed slinking into last row seats where the lights are dim enough to sleep. Students come alone and text their mothers longing messages of home. Students come in groups loudly calling to one another in secret languages. Students come after raucous parties of binge-drinking and ‘hooking up’ with other students who come. Students come from campus health centers popping pills to prevent last night’s party from becoming tomorrow’s prison. Students come weeping to class staring into their laps waiting for messages that don’t come. Students come asking “what happened to her roommate at the party?’ Students come to the gazebo carrying candles and signs honoring students who didn’t come (back). Students come with cheap beer and too much make up and cautionary tales of what happens to students who aren’t careful when they go out to parties. Students come with faces hidden behind hoods, and thoughts hidden by sounds of fevered music emanating from earbuds installed (permanently?) in ears, and tethered to the umbilical cord which connects music and thoughts to the steady vibrations of interaction. Students come to final exams with pencils and prayers. Students come home avoiding talk of grades and accomplishment, exchanging pleasantries with well-intentioned relatives. Students come back determined and committed to fresh starts. Students come armed with recycled binders and last year’s barely used notebooks. Students come with planners filled with good intentions. Students come wielding highlighters to mark their territory while marking their textbooks. Students come choosing new career paths, sometimes one each semester. Students come exploring and adventuring to new classrooms and club meetings and companions. Students come prepared and extend their perimeter to include other students who come to do the same. Students come curiously with answers and questions. Students come brandishing ideas and testing theories. Students come to final exams without pretense or prayer, and instead determination and desire. Students come off the bench ready to bring home the win on the court and in the classroom. Students come swinging bats and dunking balls and wearing plastic crowns and velvet capes, consuming starchy cafeteria food, energy drinks and knowledge. Students come bringing final projects and final plans. Students come spilling knowledge onto exams and papers which will become final grades and, hopefully, diplomas. Students come sipping spirits and raising spirits and celebratory toasts. Students come to the offices of favorite professors with words of thank you and farewell. Students come to pay respects to the freshman who is long gone. Students come gazing at reflections of men and women instead of boys and girls. Students come wrapped in polyester gowns with sensible Birkenstock shoes and sequined mortarboards. Students come sauntering to Pomp and Circumstance, smiling at proud parents and swinging tassels made of silk and struggle. Students come together to celebrate successes and failures and trials and triumph. Students come exchanging tearful embraces and congratulations. Students come revealing new sensibilities and unmarked destinies ready to march from the known to the unknown. Students, no longer students, leave.
Vicki Schmidt is the author of many to-do lists, awardless course syllabi, occasionally inspirational tweets and this piece of prose produced in ENOL 550 Creative Writing, a graduate course at UC. She is an assistant professor of education at McPherson College in McPherson, Kansas.