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Start of school a welcome sight for community

I used to live on Seventh Street just three blocks from the Fort Hays State University campus. This was long before I had any ties to the university. I had never taken a class, much less worked there.

My wife, Deb, and I came to agree we had two favorite times of the year: May, when the FHSU students went home, and August, when the students came back.

That's not really contradictory when you think about it.

Even apart from the occasional raucous party, things were pretty lively in the college neighborhood during the nine months of the year when school was in session. After commencement, the change was dramatic. Less traffic. Less noise. Fewer pedestrians. Not so much litter. A lot less commotion.

It became suddenly very peaceful, and that was a nice change.

By mid-August, though, activity quickly began to pick up. Students started moving into the surrounding apartments, often with their belongings in livestock trailers and assisted in the unloading by their parents. The streets and sidewalks became busier. We sometimes loaned an egg or a cup of sugar -- literally -- to these friendly new neighbors. There was escalating energy and youthful eagerness. The excitement was palpable ... and catching.

That was a nice change, too.

In our region of the country, we enjoy four seasons. When you think about it, the community of Hays also enjoys changing seasons of another kind: the season of school's-in-session and the season of school's-out. I'm one of those guys who enjoys both kinds of changing seasons.

The season of school's-in-session is about to start, and even after 17 years as an employee at Fort Hays State, I'm still excited by this changing of the calendar.

Even though it takes place as summer is ending, it has more in common with spring than fall. It is a time of new possibilities. Like flowers budding, students arrive back on campus ready to blossom into their full potential. This change in the cycle of life also impacts faculty and staff. While some of their duties remain the same, many faculty members anticipate a new class, a new research subject or a new service project. Staff also accept the demands of supporting new academic programs, or attending to new buildings or starting new projects to modernize the campus.

College life can be demanding. For students, there is the drudgery of homework and the challenge of studying for tests. Faculty must grade papers and make lesson plans, and somehow fit research and public service into the mix. Staff endure a wide range of tasks, from the monotony of routine maintenance to the strenuous demands of hard physical labor.

Still, as we embark on a new academic year, it is altogether fitting to consider the more lyrical aspect of the college experience. When you get right down to it, we all play an important role in elevating the quality of life.

I like spring, summer, fall and winter. I also enjoy the seasons of school's-in-session and school's-out. Going to New England to see the fall foliage would be nice, no doubt, but it's also grand to see the Fort Hays State University campus filling up again with students, faculty and staff.

Kent Steward is director of University Relations at Fort Hays State University.