Wednesday, September 05, 2012

A Quarter-Century Ago...

25 years ago this week, I headed off to the University of Alberta to earn my Bachelor of Arts degree. Having just loaded up Mom and Dad's car with my clothes, Atari 130XE computer and other essentials, I posed for a going-away photo in the driveway before departing for Lister Hall.

That first week at university was very strange. I was living on my own for the first time, with compete freedom to schedule when I'd eat, sleep, read, complete assignments for class and socialize. I enjoyed living with Mom and Dad, but my first year away from home started to shape who I'd become as profoundly - or perhaps more so - than any other stage of my life. I was exposed to new ideas, new kinds of people, new challenges. I was no longer one of the smartest kids in school; now I was just one of tens of thousands of young people sufficiently bright enough to make the leap to post-secondary education. It was humbling and delightful at the same time.

How different it must be to attend university now. Back then my 8-bit computer was connected only to local bulletin boards at 300 (later 1200, later still 2400) baud, text scrolling by much slower than I could read it. If I wanted to research something, I did it by traipsing across campus to one of the libraries, searching through the stacks. There was a computerized card catalogue, but it was only half-complete. There was no Google, no Yahoo, there wasn't even Mozilla or Netscape; there were no cell phones, and I listened to music on cassette tape on my Walkman. A ticket to one of the dances cost $2; tuition that first year was $800. Our meal cards were loaded up with, I believe, $700 per semester, barely enough to keep you fed at the Lister Hall cafeteria for the year if you limited yourself to about one and a half meals per day.
There was a bit of early snow that first week, and on my way to class one morning I slipped on a patch of ice just outside the entrance to the Butterdome. I flew off my feet only to land in the arms of a petite but surprisingly strong brunette.

"Thanks!" I said.

"No problem," she smirked. She introduced herself as Candy White and asked me to come see her sometime on the 11th floor - one of the all-girl floors. She was a nursing student, and while I did go up to see her the next day, I met only her very friendly parents, who assured me Candy would be sorry I missed her. I never worked up the nerve for a second visit, and whatever meet-cute romance may have blossomed was nipped in the bud by my adolescent cowardice.

Still, that first year was wonderful, and my second and third years would be even better. The fourth year, well...it was wonderful too, but...that's another story.

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