The First Day

Normally these stories start off with “My eyes peel open as the obnoxious buzz of my alarm clock pulls me into consciousness,” but that isn’t the case today. I had already woken up an hour before my alarm was scheduled to go off. Since then I’ve been lying in bed, staring at the ceiling with my mind depicting possible scenarios of how today was going to play out. Today is no ordinary day. Today is the first day of my freshman year of college.

I am what my mother calls a “worrier.” I’m constantly looking toward the future with a furrowed brow and anxiously wringing my hands. I worry about next week’s test, I worry about being late to class and I’m always worrying about deadlines. My mom has been the one to calm me down and to urge me to focus on the present.

But that’s just the thing. My mom is not here now. This is college. So I can worry all I want to in the comfort of my college dorm room.

As soon as my alarm buzzes at 7:30, I practically leap out of bed. Okay, what should I do first? Maybe I should change my clothes. Wait, where are my clothes? After a small heart attack fumbling around in the dark I finally manage to locate my new high-low skirt and collared tank, which are neatly folded on my desk.

“Maybe this is too dressy for school,” I think as I slip on the indigo-and-gray skirt. But then again, what do college students wear on their first day of school? I suddenly want to hit myself for not bothering to phone my friends to ask what they’re wearing. I’d ask my roommate but she’s asleep. I’m probably going to walk into my lecture looking overeager in this outfit while everyone is lounging in sweats and UCI crewnecks.

By the time I’m primped and ready to go, it’s only nine a.m. and class doesn’t start for another half hour. Well, maybe I should leave for class now, just in case I get lost along the way. I grab my bag, making sure it’s stocked with my notebook, textbook and a brand new set of pens, and I’m out the door.

As soon as I step out into the morning sunlight that shines faintly upon Middle Earth, I see students everywhere with their backpacks, laptops and morning coffees, racing past me with determination printed all over their faces. These people know where they’re going. I don’t. I hurriedly pull out my campus map, unashamed of how much I look like a freshman. There’s a big circle drawn on the map with all the buildings surrounding it. This must be Ring Road. I just need to find Ring Road, then take it all the way to the Humanities.

I walk at a breakneck speed and pass up countless students along the way to locate Ring Road. Oh no, what if I already passed the road? My palms start to sweat. But eventually I spot the wide, circling path and I join the current of sleepy students, breathing out a sigh of relief. I’m okay for now. I continue down the road for another 15 minutes or so until I spot the words “Humanities Instructional Building” on a structure of intimidating size. With a gulp I fold up my map and break off from the current. This is it. 15 minutes early, but this is it. My heart pounds within my chest. I grip the cold metal handle of the door and tug.

Apparently my fellow students had also worried about getting to class on time, because the expansive lecture hall is almost halfway full. I hurry to the front and take the first seat I can find. My notebook and pen are splayed out and poised in the blink of an eye, and moments later, a hush falls over the room as my professor enters from the back and makes her way to the podium in the front. Please, God, don’t give me a mean professor who has a strong, hard-to-follow accent or who doles out pop quizzes like they’re candy. I study her, but my heart isn’t beating frantically anymore.

She’s not a towering figure in a suit with a polished briefcase, and she’s not holding a mountain-load of difficult homework to assign. She’s a small woman in a T-shirt and jeans with a backpack strapped to her back, and she’s holding a thin notebook. If I didn’t know any better, I’d mistake her for a student.

She smiles at us, eyes crinkling behind spectacles, and tiptoes to reach the microphone. “Well, good morning, everyone, and welcome to UCI,” she chirps. Silence. The entire lecture hall is full now but no one has the courage (or the energy) to reply. She shakes her head and crosses her arms playfully. “Okay, I see I’m going to have to get you guys excited about this. Now everyone stand up; I’m going to lead you guys in some warmup stretches! Let’s do jumping-jacks!” We all look at each other. She’s got to be kidding. Is she allowed to do this? We’re at a university, after all. But lo and behold, my small professor in clothing more casual than mine starts doing jumping-jacks.

We all laugh and oblige, and suddenly as I begin my jumping-jacks, all the tension is gone. All the worry is gone. All the little things I stressed over since I woke up an hour before my alarm this morning appear to be just that: little. I’m not the only freshman experiencing these feelings. I’m not alone. And you know what? I think I’m going to be okay.

In fact, I know I’m going to be okay.