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  • Ken Ilgunas

First week of school

Ah, the first week of classes! There is adventure, hope, romance (electricity!) in the air.

Frisbees float above freshly groomed campus lawns. The gym is packed with people trying to keep summer muscles hard. Males are clean-shaven and dressed neatly in ironed polos and plaid shorts. Frustratingly pretty females are quick to give friendly smiles in delightful sundresses and skirts.

I remember my first day of college back in August of 2001. My best friend Josh and I were going to be roommates at Alfred University—a pricy private school in southern New York. When our parents dropped us off and said goodbye, we turned the stereo all the way up in our dorm and celebrated our newfound freedom with chest poundings and maniacal dancing.

It was our first taste of freedom, and it was wonderful. We envisioned ourselves partaking in passionate, but fleeting romances, leading the club hockey team to glory, and—to a lesser degree—excelling in school.

Things didn’t go exactly as planned. The hockey team performed pitifully and I struggle to remember if we even won a game that year. My female pursuits—an embarrassing series of rejections and misadventures—all ended disastrously. And my grades were mediocre at best since I was just starting to shed my high school slacker skin.

I had my first beer in college, and between the pleasures of the “sauce” and the dining hall fare that gave me more digestive issues than I care to mention and you care to hear—I added a good thirteen pounds of flab onto what had been a trim physique.

Despite our unmet expectations, my experience at Alfred was great. As are my experiences at Duke. But I suppose I’m far different than the excited eighteen-year-old who wandered doe-eyed onto campus nine years ago.

I know that by the time December rolls around, the excitement in the air will have dissipated. The males will have slender, pale muscles, and two week’s worth of stubble sprouting on their chins. The women—carrying around an extra seven or eight pounds—will stagger into libraries with zombie eyes and a caffeinated gait, carrying a piping-hot cup of coffee in one hand and a greasy bag of Chick-fil-A in the other.

I’m afraid I don’t share the same excitement as my fellow students. This is my eighth year of school, so I guess I know what to expect. Don’t get me wrong—I’m happy to be here. It’s just that I’ve learned that university life can be an unnatural, unhealthy way to live.

The intellectual journey is little different than a physical journey. The serious student is like a lonely ascetic embarking on a transformative adventure. To go from his “old” self to his hopefully smarter, keener, more developed “new” self, he must endure a period of struggle and sacrifice.

Of course one hopes that all the struggle and sacrifice will be worth it one day. But that’s an easy gamble for me to make. Despite graduating with $32K in student loans, and Josh with over $60K, I’m sure neither of us would go back in time and change things around. Really, it’s unthinkable since we’re more than aware of the transformative power of a college education. Some things I’m not looking forward to:

-Waking up in a 100 degree van. -Waking up and having to disrobe in a 20 degree van. -The coffee addiction that comes with too much school work and not enough time. -The loneliness that comes with being a man on a journey who knows he ought not forge ties that are sure to be severed. -Invading swarms of ants and shelter-seeking mice.

Things I am looking forward to:

-The rare “rush” or “click” one feels—upon reading a book, listening to a lecture, or writing down thoughts—when the world, suddenly, makes a lot more sense. -Cooking evening feasts on the lawn in front of my van. -My dear, darling elementary-aged tutees -Being lulled to sleep by the cicadas’ hum -Feeling the cool air on my face when bundled in a sleeping bag on a cold winter’s day.

I have just two semesters left. If all goes according to plan, I will have no problem graduating debt-free.

Lastly, here are some end-of-summer cleaning shots. My van was in nasty shape and it needed a thorough cleaning. This summer I killed two more mice in the van with traps. Here’s a few pics with everything removed.

This is what a three-month-old apple looks like.

Over the past year and a half, I’ve accumulated my fair share of crap. This is pretty much everything I own except for my clothes, some drawers, my sleeping bags, and cooking supplies.

The great thing about living in a van is that it helps you keep your stuff at a minimum because you can only fit so much stuff in there. Mine was starting to get uncomfortably dense so I gave a box of books away to a used bookstore.

This is the first time I’ve been able to vacuum the van.

Giving the ole coat hook a shining.

All clean!

Home sweet home.


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