Sunday, August 16, 2009

'The most fun day of the year!'

“I think this is the most fun day of the year.” Anderson Hall’s Resident Director told me yesterday morning. She was describing the first ‘moving in day’ of the new academic year. In a policy-change intended to make the moving-in process less logistically daunting, this first day is now restricted to new first-year students (who mostly still call themselves ‘freshmen’ rather than more politically correct term I have used.)

Apart from stepping in, occasionally, to help a parent or student with a specific problem, I play no role in the formalities of this complex process - directing traffic, assigning parking spaces, handing out keys, escorting students to their rooms, providing directions to nearby stores and answering multitudes of questions. My role, refined over the last seven years, is to serve up amenities, and to provide prospective students and parents with what may be their first one-on-one contact with the academic side of American University.

Friday night, I drove to the local Giant supermarket and loaded up with 12 quarts of orange juice, 3 gallons of apple juice, 16 lb. of fresh strawberries, six bags of chocolate-covered and eight bags of frosted mini-donuts, 6 lb. of assorted cheeses, 3 large pineapples, 4 12 packs of soft drinks, 3 lb. of coffee, 2 cartons of ice-cream bars and two cartons of popsicles. There is an advantage to seven years of faculty-resident experience. I know what ‘sells’ and how best to make snacks and drinks available.

As moving day dawned, bright, clear and cool, cars began to snake back from the ‘Letts-Anderson Quad,’ around the back of the building complex, through an adjacent parking lot and even to spill out onto Nebraska Avenue. Parents and prospective students began unloading piles of clothing, computers, bedding and much more miscellaneous ‘stuff,’ on the quad sidewalks, awaiting the 9 AM official opening time (we actually opened a few minutes early). On my amenities table, I had setup the ‘first course’ for moving in - coffee, tea, donuts, orange juice, apple juice and fresh strawberries. With setup completed, I began walking through the quad and then along the line of waiting cars, offering glasses of juice, fresh strawberries, and chunks of fresh pineapple. As always, even those who did not accept the proffered snacks mostly seemed amused and pleased by the apparition of a past-middle-aged-professor, garbed in a orange apron with a large name tag appearing outside their car window offering juice, strawberries and pineapple. Occasionally they would ask questions about logistics, my teaching or other aspects of university life, but mostly, they just smiled and expressed their thanks.

The process continued for the next six hours, by which time the crush of new arrivals had slackened and Friday night'spurchases were exhausted. My time was divided between resupplying amenities, handing out food and drink and occasional long conversations with parents and students. I talked horses with one mother who had been a professional jockey, international travel with students who shared their own experiences and had questions about study abroad, international business and politics with parents and students interested in those areas. Occasionally, I shared the experience of my 1983-AU-Graduate son who is now a successful international businessperson himself.

What always amazes me about moving in days is the good humor of parents and students. Most have driven long distances and waited in line for forty minutes or more. Children are leaving home, many for a first extended period, and embarking on daunting new challenges. Parents may be assuming a mountain of indebtedness in the hope of ensuring that sons or daughters will have a strong foundation for rewarding life careers. A senior Housing and Dining staff member commented to me near the end of the day - “it is amazing, I haven’t heard a single angry word...” There was a sort of baseball ‘Spring Traning’ feel about the day - that hopeful time when every team sees itself as a potential World Series Contender.

Perhaps not every parent and student would have described Saturday’s experiences as ‘the most fun day of their year’ but all that I saw rose to the challenge of this major family-life transition with a commendable mix of civility, mutual consideration and love.

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