Growing up, my dad often told stories of his time in college. From the way he described it, it sounded like the best years of his life. The story of his first day in 1974 still sticks with me, retelling the moment his dormitory elevator doors closed - him on one side and his parents on the other. He was so excited that he jumped and danced around the elevator. That night he got situated in his dorm room and readied himself for classes starting up the next day, setting an analogue alarm clock, stacking his textbooks, and reviewing his schedule. Around the time he was ready to go to bed, there was knock on his door. Other students in his hallway, freshly moved in, were inviting him down to party and play pinball somewhere on campus. My dad said that felt crazy to him, that they were just then getting started with the night festivities. Riding the thrill of this, he shrugged, headed out for the night, getting very little sleep with his new friends. They were new faces to him, also initiates just across the threshold, getting to know each other in the new environment where norms and rules they’d learned in their youth were now able to be turned on their side and tested. My dad said he had a few acquaintances from his high school that attended the same university as him, though they weren’t close. He kept in touch with family and a small number of childhood friends through mail and visiting on holidays, though built a new social network and a new self-image in this environment.
I moved into college in August of 2010, on my 18th birthday. The night before I’d had a dual birthday/going-away party at my parents’ house. I invited all my childhood and high school friends, my band and friends’ bands played music in the living room, police showed up twice from neighborhood noise complaints, and I still feel bad that I didn’t get to personally see every guest. The next morning, I woke up, packed the car, broke up with my girlfriend, drove to the township to register to vote, then drove from the Chicago suburbs to Iowa City to get situated into my own dorm situation. It was the first time in my life I was moving and, objectively speaking, many thresholds were being crossed at once.
The mood was a bit different than the one my dad described in his stories. I do remember some feeling of relief when I closed the door to my dorm with my parents on the other side, though there wasn’t much of a jump-and-dance. Definitely a sense of freedom and independence, though sitting in that space there was a stark quietness in comparison to the festivities of the night before. I was responding to some birthday text messages from friends and taking photos of my room setup to show them. After a bit, I took a walk through downtown Iowa City and found a public piano that I sat and played for a few hours. During that time, I met a handful of other student musicians that would go onto become good friends, though by sunset I’d arrived back in my dorm with Facebook and Skype loaded up, talking to all of my friends from high school. Through these newer communication platforms, I had a constant connection to those social circles. It was a continuous presence, always available to check in with and access from my pocket. A network and image that I felt proud of and didn't wish to see restart.
Over the course of my freshman year, I made some great friends and was very fortunate from many opportunities that were offered to me. Throughout it, though, I maintained my closeness with many old friends, consistently taking photos to post to social media. Every time I went to check Facebook or Twitter I was confronted with photos of not just my friends and their current adventures, but of myself from the prior years. There was a gap between the feeling of a new ground I’d been expecting and what I’d actually felt. It was as if I’d been pushed across the threshold though never really departed. I didn’t feel any different than I had my senior year of high school. It was constantly present with me through having access to photos and the social network of the self-image I’d built throughout my youth.
By the beginning of my second semester, I’d arrived at the decision to transfer schools the following year, positioning myself back in the Chicago area. I moved back in with my parents for a while before getting an apartment in the city with two of my closest childhood friends and began to reconnect and build on the network I’d established prior to college.
Ten years later, I know that I’ve established the self-accountability of adulthood. I actively employ my role as an adult through my work as a teacher. The state of adulthood, as well as the thresholds of an initiation phase, still feels very ambiguous. There are recognizable components of the nuances of adult-life though they’ve grown without necessarily replacing youthful tendencies for spontaneity. Without the clear departure, the death to self, I’ve felt afloat; in-between childhood and a grounded, incorporated self-image that I’m perpetually falling towards. A new kind of freedom, with new kinds of unknowns.