There and Back Again: College Edition

In a dorm room on a hill, there lived a student. Not a nasty, dirty, wet dorm room, filled with empty beer cans and an oozy dirty-laundry smell, nor yet a lovely, well-decorated, sparkling clean dorm room with nothing in it to sit down on and no chocolate to eat; it was my son’s dorm room, and that means a certain level of manageable dirt and a moderate amount of comfort.

So continues the saga of my 18-year-old’s first year of college, a year characterized by isolation, constant disruption, intermittent backtracking, and a fair amount of missing out, putting-up, and making-do.

The school year started in August with students on campus. Classes began as a mix of online and in-person, but as Covid-19 rates soared and available quarantine rooms dwindled, more and more went to online only. And then campus all but shut down for much of September. So we drove the 2 1/4 hours to Harrisonburg to pick him up and bring him home. He spent most of September at home, attending classes remotely, while the university took steps to find more quarantine space, thin out the crowds in the dining halls, and otherwise make students safer, allowing campus to reopen in early October. Then we drove him back, and we were pleased to see that the new safety measures had worked; Covid-19 numbers on campus remained low.

Most classes are online now. In fact, some parents believe all classes are online, I guess because their own students have only online classes. I know it is not true; my own son has several classes that still meet in person. But not for long.

After about six weeks back at school, students are now heading home (or are already home) for the week of Thanksgiving break. In fact, for many of them it’s not just a week. To minimize the amount of travel around the state and country, the university announced a move to all online classes between Thanksgiving break and winter break, and is encouraging students who live in campus housing to stay home between the breaks and not come back until the third week of January.

Students were supposed to be out of their dorm rooms by 10 am today, Saturday, a deadline that was communicated to them (and never directly to parents) less than a week ago. That might have been fine if students were leaving for a week (of no classes) and not two months (of mostly full-time school). But for two months, they have to bring a lot of stuff with them: books, most of their clothes, musical instruments, computer equipment, and so forth. Packing all that up takes time.

So 10 am Saturday morning was a boneheaded deadline, when you consider that many kids had full course schedules yesterday, Friday, and that many parents had to work yesterday and could not travel to campus to get them until this morning. And some parents are coming from a whole lot farther away than we were. We’d booked a hotel room for tonight ages ago, before the 10 am time limit was announced. We’d figured on arriving late morning, packing up, spending the night at a hotel nearby, and then heading home in the morning. We asked the housing office for an extension so that we could pack him up this afternoon as originally planned, and we got it. So almost everyone was gone when we arrived. I have never seen the dorm so empty!

He’s moved out now, and we’re in the on-campus hotel for the night. Tomorrow morning we’ll hit the road again for the drive through Mirkwood Forest and the Misty Mountains, back home to the Shire.

Watch out for trolls.

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