Summertime comes early for a college staff: Specifically, it comes the very day after graduation.
Students are long gone, faculty have fled or are hiding, the flow of email ebbs… even campus caffeine dispensaries close down for a week or so. And even if you remember to bring your own coffee, the pace of the workday just shifts somehow. At this moment of the year, the 564 staff members of Davidson College who support 176 faculty and 1,900 undergraduate raisons d’être from 47 states and 23 countries suddenly find our summertime perceptions of time itself, at the very least, reconfigured.
For some staffers, the pace picks up and starts barreling toward August deadlines, notably for many of the fabulous folks in Davidson College’s building services and groundskeeping operations. Buildings and grounds don’t just happen, and some big jobs you just can’t make happen as effectively when the place is swarming with studious students studying.
For others among us, spring semester’s breakneck administrative pace hurtles momentarily to a halt like some global rollercoaster braking into the home station, into the real time and space of just these cherished several hundred acres of North Carolina hills. The academic year’s frantic mental tentacles loosen their worldwide grip just a bit, and the beginnings of summer heat and humidity begin to bear down in earnest, breathing on your neck: Just. Slow. Down.
I, for one, revel in the weeks between mid-May’s Commencement and early June’s Reunion Weekend. In this window of time as in no other throughout the year, I am a desk jockey with a reading day, maybe two in a row. I lean back to ponder an article on the value of a liberal arts and science education (for instance), rather than hunching forward to hurry it along my screen as I check for media hooks where Davidson might fit in to illustrate. I putter through piles of paper notes duly noted in interviews with students, potential story fodder folders crammed full by faculty, saved correspondence with alumni to file later. I finish up this or that project, or decide not to, ever. I take a long lunch in the shade with a campus friend, just because.
These transitional weeks in the yearly cycle of life at Davidson remind me what a living, breathing thing a school year is, and what opportunity for human thought and feeling and action this place has contained, in the context of its times, for 179 years and counting. Even in today’s digitally data-driven world, humanity rules at Davidson. That’s the point.
Granted, some days it feels like a struggle, this balance of old school and new school, and more universally, the giving and taking necessary in any group of individual humans coming together for a proclaimed common purpose.
On one such day, I mistakenly emitted some small work complaint in front of a dear friend who toils high in a tower of commerce in corporate America. He sat me down and said to me, “John. You work at a small, private, residential liberal arts college full of smart, fun, young people doing interesting things and having interesting conversations. Shut up.”
Yes, sir. It is, after all, summertime.