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Classes begin today, my friends, thus ending the long orientation process that precedes every fall semester. The bulk of our students showed up on campus this weekend. Some had been here longer, of course: a very few were here all summer; another group arrived two weeks ago to prepare for orientation; the Class of 2006 arrived a week ago. But for the most part Saturday, August 31, was the day of influx. Wandering around campus prior to meeting with my advisees, I watched students unpacking computers and stereo systems nicer than any I may ever own, and watched parents rolling stacks of boxes balanced on ergonomic desk chairs across uneven sidewalks toward ranks of newly renovated dorm rooms. And, in watching, could not help but think of the following, which is in all but a few respects wholly applicable here:

The station wagons arrived at noon, a long shining line that coursed through the west campus. In single file they eased around the orange I-beam sculpture and moved toward the dormitories. The roofs of the station wagons were loaded down with carefully secured suitcases full of light and heavy clothing; with boxes of blankets, boots and shoes, stationery and books, sheets, pillows, quilts; with rolled-up rugs and sleeping bags; with bicycles, skis, rucksacks, English and Western saddles, inflated rafts. As cars slowed to a crawl and stopped, students sprang out and raced to the rear doors to begin removing the objects inside; the stereo sets, radios, personal computers; small refrigerators and table ranges; the cartons of phonograph records and cassettes; the hairdryers and styling irons; the tennis rackets, soccer balls, hockey and lacrosse sticks, bows and arrows; the controlled substances, the birth control pills and devices; the junk food still in shopping bags — onion-and-garlic chips, nacho thins, peanut creme patties, Waffelos and Kabooms, fruit chews and toffee popcorn; the Dum Dum pops, the Mystic mints. [Don DeLillo, White Noise.]

This is, of course, the day of the station wagons at the College on the Hill. Here, at the College Just South of the Hill, things are recognizably similar. The technologies have advanced, naturally, replacing albums and cassettes with CDs and DVDs and their immaterial hard-drive equivalents. The saddles are instead represented by mountain bikes, the skis by skateboards, the rafts by roller blades. The most immediately notable transformation, however, is in the day itself; there are no station wagons. Saturday was instead, here, the day of the SUVs.

So, with GPS in hand, or dashboard, or integrated overhead display, our students have gathered their bearings, oriented themselves to the new year. Today we commence.


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