One of the great myths about universities is that they close up shop in the summer months. From a provost’s vantage point, the summer months do have a distinct character but not much of a slowdown. There are many summer professional workshops providing research exchanges among scholars, high school college preparatory institutes, faculty in laboratories and offices doing their research, and many traditional summer classes. So, there is a large amount of activity, but it is different than that of the academic year.
In the summer, many traditional degree students are away from campus, in internships or jobs. Many faculty are not on campus but working away, in archives or in the home institutions of collaborators. Study abroad opportunities exist for degree students.
In essence, the summer campus is busy, but the bodies on campus are disproportionately visitors.
With each passing day over the last week, as we approach the start of the fall semester, the atmosphere on campus is changing.
Construction workers, painters, and repair technicians are working overtime to finish updating classrooms, offices, and dormitories in preparation for the new semester that starts next week. Grounds crews are cleaning and weeding (between what seems to be constant thunderstorms).
Those who organize the move-in process for students have been in constant preparation for weeks. Emails have gone out to staff to either telecommute or take public transportation to campus on move-in days. A campus with multiple construction projects ongoing makes the move-in process more complicated than usual.
This week, the orientation leaders for New Student Orientation (NSO) arrived, and the level of noise and laughter is rapidly increasing. The NSO leaders are upper level students who come early to welcome the first-year students and help them move in. It’s a great tradition and is a great example of the spirit of Georgetown intent on building community. Friday, they will be spread throughout campus, singing, dancing and extending welcoming hands at the move-in.
The average age of people walking across campus is plummeting, seemingly hour by hour. There are some early family groups walking the campus, with apparent first year students, probably combining a short DC vacation with move-in. The heat has been oppressive the last few days and the groups are uniformly wilted. (I wonder whether we should put out the public water stations earlier than move-in day itself.) Each day, there seem to be more students pulling rollerboards across campus, loaded down with more than they will carry the rest of the year in their comings and goings. Empty boxes from summer storage companies are starting to appear near dumpsters.
Walking into Healy Hall, there was a line of young folks taking turns standing in front of or sitting on the statue of John Carroll. He’ll get more attention in the next few days than the last few months. I like to think he’s missed the students, too.
The changes bring back the not-too-distant memories of the buzz that exists on all residential university campuses when the academic year is in full throttle. The gang is back. They animate the space in a way quite distinctive of the research and service activities of the university. Part of this is the optimism of youth. Part of it is the excitement that comes with building one’s future and exploring life in new ways.
Each fall the coming of new students reminds us of the deep honor we have to hold the positions we have.