College Years

Like the wartime years of a civilian solider, they lay so much outside the real world that they had about them a certain unsubstantial, dreamlike quality.

I came across the above passage in Page Smith’s biography of John Adams, which I started to read again yesterday afternoon. The passage refers to Adams’s days at Harvard. I’d underlined the passage in the book the first time I attempted to read it and wrote in the margin: “Yes! This is exactly what my college years were like–never seen it described this well.”

My college years are mostly a blur with little remaining except some scattered memories here and there, and some ancient Word documents (version 5.5 for DOS) with papers and notes. One of my bigger regrets about college, silly as it seems, is that I didn’t begin keeping a journal then. (It wasn’t until nearly 2 years after graduation that I finally started one.) John Adams college career covers 8-pages of an 1,100 page biography. But it was Smith’s words, about those days having a certain dreamlike quality that resonated with me.

I have vague memories of my first day at college. I’d already met my roommate at an event earlier in the summer. But I met two other people on that first day who became among my best friends.

I remember little of my time in classes. I can conjure up generic images of taking notes in large lecture halls, or sitting in semi-circles in smaller rooms. I remember various lab classes in the evenings, but not the specifics, except for one time when an experiment of mine went awry, and I handed a test-tube full of bubbling iron filings to a friend and dashed out of the lab. I remember countless philosophical debates in various dorm room floors into the wee hours of the night. (How I managed to stay up so late eludes me, but I was young…)

Certain images stick with me: riding my bike to class early in the morning and crossing past the bell tower. To my left was one of the science buildings, ivy creeping up its walls. For some reason, it was the ivy that made feel like I was actually in college rather than high school. Friday night or Saturday night second-run movies in one of the lecture halls. The one that stands out most in my mind was Dead Again with Kenneth Branagh.

Looking back on it now, the way it seemed to me was one day, I was there on the campus for my very first day. No long after (but actually two years later) I’d moved out of the dorms and into an apartment with my two roommates. After that, it was all study and work all the time and then, on a hot June day, I was filing onto the stage to receive my diploma. It really does have a dreamlike quality when I look back on it.

Reading that passage in Adams biography comforts me somehow.

One comment

  1. When I recall my college days I can feel exactly what you describe, and the same is true for my high school years.

    My father used to say that “Every life is composed of different lives lived by different people that share one body and one mind”. I remember my father saying that to me when I was a teenage boy that, at the time, didn´t understand what he was talking about…

    As always Jamie, love your writing and your blog.


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