John Heaton (jheaton) wrote,
John Heaton

First day of school

Lincoln Highway Heritage Byway
Image via Iowa Byways on Flickr

Today is Labor Day in the United States, which means it's more or less the 25th anniversary of my first day as a student at Cornell College. Labor Day was later that year, so it's actually a few days before the true anniversary, but you know, close enough.

My first-ever Cornell College class was HIS 154, Making of Modern America, taught by Rev. Thomas. (You'll want to click that link, guys.) It's not an overstatement to say this was a massively influential course; I arrived at Cornell knowing I would study secondary education but having no idea what my subject major would be, and I enjoyed that history class so much that I decided I'd major in history. Who knows what might have happened if I'd taken some other class first?

Cornell has changed a lot in the last 25 years, of course, and one of the changes I like most is that they now end New Student Orientation with a day of community service. The college’s Office of Civic Engagement sends the new students. along with faculty and staff members, to different sites around eastern Iowa to work on various service projects. This year, more than 300 students put in about 1,000 volunteer hours working at HACAP, Willis Dady Emergency Shelter, Camp Courageous, the Catherine McAuley Center, Seeds for Seniors, Foundation 2, Habitat for Humanity, Abbe Hills Farm, Goodwill, and about a dozen other sites. Pretty cool! I would have liked doing something like that when I was a new Cornell student.

One things that hasn't changed since then is that the new students still have access to Peer Advocates. The PAs are there to assist new students with their transition to Cornell, by holding small group sessions, planning social activities, and providing peer counseling. Nowadays, it seems every new student is assigned to a PA group, but when I was there, my impression was they were for certain students who the college thought might need additional help adjusting to college life, such as those who were the first in their family to attend college or who'd had a spotty academic career prior to coming to Cornell.

Some of the people I met in my PA group remained among my closest friends throughout my three years at college. But that could have been very different too, because I ended up in the wrong group. Here's how that happened. New Student Orientation ends with a new student variety show, and back in those days, that included a performance by an ensemble composed of new students who planned to join the concert band. I was one of those students, and I was still in rehearsal when the PA group orientation session started. During the part of the session I missed, all the students who'd been assigned to PA groups gathered in one lounge in the Commons for a brief informational session before breaking into their assigned small groups, and then all the small groups but one left the lounge to hold their meetings elsewhere in the Commons.

So when we few band/PA group members arrived in the lounge where we'd been told to report for orientation, we discovered two things: one, that none of us were on the roster for the one group that remained in that lounge; and two, the leaders of that group -- Alisa and Cathy, if you must know -- knew neither what group we should have been in nor where any of the other groups had gone. So Alisa and Cathy just had us join their group. Which worked out pretty well for another one of the latecomers, Mike. Pretty soon after joining the group, he started dating one of the other group members. She transferred to University of Iowa at the end of that year, but they continued to date, and a couple of years after graduating they married, and they're still together 19 years later.
Tags: cornell college, halcyon days of yore, holidays

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