“There’s a time and place for everything, children, and it’s called college.” That’s what South Park’s Chef said, anyway. For me, it was true.
I was a fringe kid in high school—too nerdy for the cool kids, not nerdy enough for the nerds. I faded into the background as much any girl can when she’s wearing skin-tight Jordache jeans and leg warmers.
College was a different story. The late ’80s and early ’90s were a beautiful six-year blur. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to be when I grew up, so I dabbled in several majors and meandered my way towards a degree rather than steamrolling towards some goal that would inevitably change anyway.
College was living in an apartment with a revolving door of semi-strangers. It was surviving on coffee, ramen noodles, pizza and cheap beer. It was writing papers at 3 a.m. while drinking peppermint schnapps. It was carting laundry home once a month and crashing in my childhood bedroom until Mom’s coffee roused me. It was late night discussions of politics, religion, Melrose Place, and why that girl in our American Lit class acted like such a douche. It was studying German, never realizing that 15 years later all I would remember how to say in the language was “shithead.” It was a drunken friend in a trench coat and no pants banging on my door at midnight.
I loved college so much that I ended up working in higher education. Sometimes that keeps me young. Other times it forces me to dye those pesky new strands of gray away much more often than I’d like.
Just like everything else, technology and progress have changed the face of college life. Many of the routines of my college years are experiences that today’s students couldn’t imagine. When I talk about them, the work-study students in my office look at me like I’m Laura Ingalls Wilder claiming that out on the prairie we could only bathe on Saturdays.
These are just a few of the staples of my college career that have now become mostly extinct.
1. Registration Lines
The buzz would circulate that the schedule for the upcoming semester was out. We’d rush to the Registrar’s Office, where piles of class schedules were stacked alongside the front counter. I always grabbed a few extras for my friends, winning a purse-lipped glare from the counter lady. We would gather under some tree if it was nice out or in a coffee shop if it was shitty, sitting cross-legged on the grass or the floor. Newsprint smudged our hands as we flipped through the schedule.
After poring over my options with friends, I’d meet with my faculty advisors. One had nicotine-stained fingers and quoted Hunter S. Thompson. One had a bushy beard and a “Beowulf” license plate. They’d give my planned schedule a cursory glance, remind me that I still needed a science class to graduate, and sign my form.
Next came registration day, that twice-a-year rite of passage. The more credits you’d earned, the earlier your sacred day arrived. If I was supposed to work, I took off. If I had a hangover, I dragged my sorry butt out of bed anyway. Registration waited for no one.
Registration took place in what was called the Commuter Cafeteria. “The Caf” smelled of Lysol and tuna fish. During registration, half the tables were pushed against a wall and replaced with rows of computers. Staff sat in front of monitors with merrily blinking green DOS cursors.
I’d stand in line, waiting for my name to be called, ignoring the book I’d brought in favor of people-watching. Was that girl 50 people ahead of me the chick from the apartment across the way, the one who was always nice enough to pick us up beer? She was an English major too, and would probably get the last seat in that Transcendentalist Lit course I wanted. Bitch.
I had a love-hate relationship with Registration Day. I loved the newness of a coming semester. I hated those lines.
Ironically, part of my job today is managing registration systems. There are no lines. The schedule is a searchable, mobile-friendly website. You can jump on your laptop or your phone and sign up for your courses from wherever you damn well please.
2. Hallway Grade Checks
Now that I’m intimately familiar with guardianship of academic records, this one makes me cringe. But back in the day, it was just something that we did, like going for cheap pizza night at the dive in town on Tuesdays.
Getting grades in the mail took forever, so almost every professor posted them outside their office door. Students trudged to the prof’s office and patiently waited our turn to stand in front of that sheet. The happy ones would squeal and high-five. The not-so-happy would curse or skulk away silently.
Listing us publicly by name was a no-no, so the profs used social security numbers, or some variation of them. Maybe it was the last 4 digits, or the last 6. We didn’t think about identity theft and the fact that part or all of our SSNs were on display for classmates and strangers. We were just hoping to see that “A” or “B” beside our number.
3. The Race for the Dorm Phone
My “dorm” was actually an on-campus apartment I shared with three other girls. We each had a tiny bedroom and shared a communal living area, a bathroom and … the horror … a phone.
No one had a cell phone. A few of my friends had pagers, which we thought were the shit. How cool was it that if Mike from upstairs was out I could page him, and maybe he’d find a pay phone and call me back so I could ask him to pick up some Mickey D’s?
But for most of us, that dorm phone was the only connection to the outer world. I had a psychology class study buddy who looked like Kiefer Sutherland if I squinted at him in just the right light. When he was due to call and a roomie tied up the phone talking to her mother while I waited, I came to understand why people drink wine.
And oh, the joys and sorrows of voicemail! The first thing I did when I got home from classes or work was see if the little red voice mail light was blinking. If it was and I was expecting that call from kinda-sorta-Kiefer, my heart would start thumping. Then I’d check the message and it would be a roommate’s friend wanting to crash at our place.
If I’d been able to text, that voicemail light would have had me sending sad-face emoticons to all my friends.
4. Resume Paper
One of my part-time jobs in college was working at the career center. Over and over again, I’d hear the counselors remind students to invest in quality stock resume paper.
When my time came, I bought my box of perfect off-white parchment. I printed out 20 copies of my resume, battling several printer jams in the process. Then I found some dumb typo and stood there giving my printer the finger and trying not to cry.
I hire people all the time now, but I haven’t held a piece of resume paper in years. If you can’t send it electronically, we pretty much don’t want it at all.
I’ll bet a lot fewer printers get flipped the bird since resume paper joined the dinosaurs.
5. Reconnecting on Facebook
Technically this isn’t a college memory. But it is still something today’s students will probably never do.
A handful of my college friends were of the lifelong, together-forever variety. But just as many of my college friendships fizzled out after graduation. During those intense years of all-nighters, parties, tears, laughter and hangover food, you swear those connections will never fade. But in some cases, they do. Life is busy and one or both of you are bad at keeping in touch. One day you realize that you haven’t spoken in 10 years.
That’s exactly what happened with some of my college friendships. So imagine my joy when in 2008 or so I stumbled on Facebook, signed up, and a week later found a friend request from that guy I hung out with every Thursday night until he went off to grad school, or that really cool chick who was my roomie before transferring out of state.
In some cases, those reconnects have been nothing more than a few messages before we lapsed back into silence. But in a few cases, Facebook has reunited me with college buddies that I now see or at least talk with regularly.
Today’s students won’t quite get the “squeeee!!” feeling of finding that person who was your soul mate for a semester before you both grew up and got real jobs. They’re Facebooked, Linked and Twittered from day one of their relationships. There’s nothing new to find.
The list of things that you—and I—did in college that your kids will never do could go on and on. I can’t promise you that they aren’t making friends who will buy them beer. I can almost guarantee you that they’re pulling all-nighters and that ramen is still a staple of their diets. I really hope that in spite of Google they’re spending time in the quiet, musty aisles of a campus library.
But a few of the things that were part of our “time and place called college” are gone for good, and that’s not a bad thing. I don’t miss those lines, that voicemail light, or paper jams one bit.