Reinvent Relevance

By John Bonanni


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The last time I walked a quad on a college campus was about three months ago when I had to convince the Bursar that a record of my attendance existed. Not much had changed over 42 years, except that my transcript was probably the last set of records available in a negative copy format – and nowhere near a digital database.

They finally found the record, with the help of an employee who had just been given an award for 40 years of service. I knew she’d be the one to solve the issue. Her eyes lit up when I whispered “Gestetner!” in her ear; repeating it a bit more forcefully the second time around so she could adjust her amplification device.

Back in the day, the sweet aroma of a Gestetner spirit duplicator permeating the General Office air was the defining reason many of us brown nosed up to a teacher in hopes of assisting them in making blue, bleeding copies of test papers. They came out freshly toxic; cold and wet to the touch, fragrant and coveted as a first press of virgin olive oil.

Three deep breaths and we had achieved the impossible: legally buzzed on methane and ethyl alcohol in the front office in the middle of the school day, in full view of appreciative teachers and envious buddies. It lasted at least until Introduction to Algebra at noon.

Armed with my academic artifact, I proceeded to complete the two-pound package of admissions requirements and waited for the possibility of an interview. It came, I went, and I was invited to join the program. Just like that. No second interview, no HR review, nothing like what I was used to experiencing.

In fact, the whole encounter was unexpected. Regardless of what one reads and hears, a campus is still a contemplative environment, with many individuals roaming their quads in mundane bewilderment. I suspect it is classic post-acceptance depression. One witnesses meandering, iPhone-driven matriculates leading paths to social sciences lectures, followed by regular meal-plan withdrawals, most likely of a pre-packaged, Velveeta-infused burrito, then stumbling on to Old Main to audit Nutrition for Special Populations for extra credit.

I figured this is why campus revolutions, unrest and protests were all colourful, energetic devices to deliver the excitement promised in the college marketing brochure. As I understand it, these events help to distract the overriding complacency of a day at your favourite, revered institution of higher learning.

The affable, genuine nature of the interviewer, half my age, a department head as well as an accomplished professional, hosted an easy, accessible invitation to dialogue. Quite the pleasure it was, especially when he welcomed me to the program. I was really enjoying myself, with my grey hair and old-man gait, feeling like a contemporary colleague sharing stories from our respective backgrounds. I could learn from him. I rose, shook hands a third time and walked my way out into the quad with which I was becoming familiar. All good, all pleasant being back in the never-never land of the almost-adult, where priorities focused on essay deadlines instead of profit and loss forecasts.

The quad was calm. People were walking to classrooms, looking for answers, searching for meaning, finding purpose all in one small spit of common egress around a cluster of buildings designed for enlightenment.

Just beyond the campus boundary, White Street bustled with traffic and industry as it always had. The experience of looking out onto the street pavement rather than looking into the campus grasses was liberating and refreshing. This would make a wonderful home, a truly interactive adult day care for an aging and inquisitive mind.

It had been a lifetime since I had walked into a college classroom. I had been wanting to return to this for a long time, even after the experience of two children with graduate degrees and the bills to match them. Returning felt like I had picked up where I left off nearly 50 years ago. I thoroughly embraced my new reinvention of personal relevance.

John spent the last 40 years in the theatre on tour, on Broadway, at Radio City Music Hall and many places in between managing every sensitive personality he encountered. He now writes about them, among other things. He is currently enrolled in the MFA Program in Creative and Professional Writing at Western Connecticut University.

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