Happy Independence Day weekend, y’all.
On the week before the Fourth of July, 40 years ago, I attended Freshman Orientation at the University of Georgia. Forty years! How could that be? I can’t recall what I had for breakfast this morning, but I vividly remember almost every moment of those two days.
I attended orientation with a high school friend — Bob Lunsford — with whom I would later share an apartment — R7 — at Callaway Gardens Apartments on the Atlanta Highway. If the walls of R7 could talk — well, let’s just say I am glad that they cannot.
We stayed at Meyers Hall for orientation, in a second floor room that overlooked the quad. A young man named Sanders Luellen shared the room with us. I am not sure that I ever saw Sanders Luellen after orientation, but I never forgot his name. Bob Lunsford came down sick while we were there, with what turned out to be mononucleosis. I hope I am not violating some HIPAA law by revealing that, but it has been, like I said, 40 years, so I am pretty sure Bob is no longer contagious.
Bob is now a pharmacist, by the way, so he made the best of his time at UGA. I managed to graduate, but still haven’t decided what I want to be when I grow up.
There were a couple of highlights to my orientation session. One was meeting a couple of girls from Macon — Julie Blair and Teresa Vinson — with whom I would remain friends throughout college. I also hit a grand slam homerun in the afternoon softball game, which might be the crowning achievement of my humble athletic career.
As fate would have it, four decades later I would, once again, spend the week before the Fourth of July at UGA orientation. Imagine that.
No, I have not re-enrolled. I wish I could, but we would have to double my SAT score if I were to be admitted to this fall’s class. No, this week I was at orientation with my youngest child, Jenna, who is 18 going on 32 and still, after all these years, Queen of the Eye-roll.
A lot has changed at UGA since the summer of 1970. The size of the student body has doubled, for instance, and the football stadium now boasts a second, third and even fourth tier — and lights. Everyone walks around with cell phones nowadays, but nobody actually talks on the phones. They tap out messages with their thumbs and surf the Internet.
We did have opposable thumbs in 1970 but had not evolved to the point of being able to use them to communicate electronically.
And when I was about to be a freshman in 1970, J. Michael Floyd was probably perfecting the peanut butter-and-jelly sandwich in Fitzgerald. Now he presides over the greatest culinary empire in the history of higher education. There are monarchs that don’t eat as well as the meal-plan students at the University of Georgia.
But although much has changed since I was a green-as-grass first-year student, much has stayed the same — and that is a good thing.
For instance, the orientation leaders are still attractive and personable and full of energy. I fell in love with at least three of my orientation leaders in 1970, and if I weren’t an old fat balding guy would have fallen for at least six of this year’s crew.
And this year’s incoming freshman class is a lot more accomplished, academically, than my cohorts and I were — the average GPA for the Class of 2014 is 3.87 and the average SAT exceeds 1300. As I’ve said before, two of us used to get in for that.
But as smart as they are, today’s students will arrive on campus with the same hopes, dreams and fears that their parents did. They aren’t sure what they want to major in. They hope they will make friends. They hope they won’t get lonely. They hope they will get along with their roommate. They hope they can balance their social lives and their school work. They will stress over their schedule and will stress over whether to rush and hope that if they do anything to disappoint their parents that they won’t get caught.
And they hope they don’t screw up and oversleep on the day they order their student football tickets.
And just like my friends and I, they are about to embark on a grand adventure and what just might be the best four or five years of their lives. I hope they embrace it — especially the cute little blonde girl who is Queen of the Eye-roll.
Darrell Huckaby is an author and teacher in Rockdale County. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.