Episode 18 From Hubbard, Wisconsin- “The Freshmen ”

Classes start on Monday at Hubbard State University. Hubbard, which has been a quiet, peaceful town during the summer, is now teaming with activity as 7,000 students return for the fall semester. The football team has been back for two weeks but after two-a-day workouts they are kept too busy and are too tired to stir up any commotion. The Hubbard State Football team is NCAA division II; just good enough to provide great entertainment and just obscure enough that it’s participants don’t have big heads or outlandish egos. Hubbard State is a place where the term “student athlete” actually means something.

Preceding the main invasion of students, some 2,000 freshmen arrived in Hubbard last Wednesday for Hubbard State’s new student orientation where they learn about campus facilities, are admonished about excessive drinking, and are required to hear a lecture about the difference between consensual sex and rape. Mostly 18 years old and finally free from the constraints of their parents, they are ecstatic about their independence. Long time Hubbard residents snicker to themselves as they see the freshmen wandering the streets in “packs” with their newfound friends. Dressed to the hilt, thanks to a clothing budget provided by Mom and Dad, they look like little Hollywood celebrities as they “troll” for the eye of that cute freshman guy or girl that they might meet at any moment. They have new laptops, school hasn’t started and it’s time to party!

On the other side of campus, in the science building, is Marcus Harnack’s chemistry professor who begins his twentieth year at Hubbard State. Still passionate about Chemistry, he enjoys his work. Like the springtime brings new flowers and life to the fields, each fall brings new students and a new life to the University. As the years pass he gets older and his hairline recedes further but the students never grow old; they come in every fall, eternally 18 years old with the enthusiasm and optimism that is the gift of youth. It is refreshing and he feels blessed to be part of it.

The Chemistry Professor has a job to do. His primary mission is to impart knowledge. He does so by carefully preparing his lectures and by being available to his students outside of class when they come to him with questions. He treats them with respect, but knows that the dissemination of knowledge is a two-way street. His job is to prepare and deliver his lectures. Their job is to read the textbook and study. Unfortunately for many freshmen, this isn’t something they have contemplated; there are too many other fun things to do while at the University.

On the first day of class he asks them a question. “What would you be doing if you were not in College?” They reply that they would be working in a retail store, construction, or at the paper mill in their hometown. “So you would be working 40 hours a week? Is that correct?” he says. They answer in the affirmative. He then goes on to guarantee that if they will work a 40-hour week in college, they will be successful. He asks them to “work” in their academic pursuits 8 hours a day, five days a week, with evenings and weekends off. The 40 hours must be spent either in class or in study time. He explains that if they would get up at 7 a.m., eat breakfast, and either attend class or study from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., with an hour off for lunch, they would have every evening off to socialize. They would also have their weekends free. He knows that this will work. He also knows that they won’t take his advice.

Young people are nocturnal, like hamsters. Unless they force themselves to the contrary they will sleep during the day and come alive at night. They have studying on their priority list, but it is usually way down at the bottom of the list. A typical Tuesday goes something like this.

11:00 a.m. Awaken with back pain from sleeping on top of psychology textbook
12:01 p.m. Eat lunch in the cafeteria
1:00 p.m. Attend Chemistry Class
2:00 p.m. Go to the snack shop at the student center to hang around with friends
4:30 p.m. Back to the dorm to see if anything is going on
6:00 p.m. Eat dinner in the cafeteria
7:30 p.m. Go downtown with friends to check on that fake ID you’ve ordered
11:00 p.m. Back to the dorm to listen to rock music and cram for tomorrow’s exam
2:30 a.m. Fall asleep holding that boring economics textbook

Of course, Wednesday the student has four classes for which he/she is woefully prepared. After a few weeks of irresponsible use of time, the first exams are held. The results are disastrous. Mom and Dad won’t be happy. For a nanosecond they will remember the Chemistry Professor’s recommendation on how to structure their time for academic success…for about a nanosecond. Then they will be distracted when Lenny down the hall wants to play ping-pong. Lenny is a great guy. Any time during the night or day Lenny is hanging around the dorm and wants to do something. Problem is, with his 0.81 first semester grade point average, Lenny isn’t coming back next semester.

As the freshmen are eternally 18 years old, the Chemistry Professor realizes that they are also eternally unwise and irresponsible in their time-use decisions. “Why do they never learn?” he asks himself. The answer to his question lies in the premise itself; they are eighteen. Unlike he, they weren’t around last year to observe the mistakes of the previous class of freshmen. They are part of the vast eternal round of humanity, doomed to learn life’s lessons the way all of us must…by ourselves.

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