Back To School When You’re Not Going Back

This week, for the first time in 17 years, everyone I know that’s a student is going back to school without me.

It’s not like I stopped halfway through, but last spring, I graduated from undergrad, and have made the decision to indefinitely postpone pursuing an M.A. For the first time in my life that I can remember, since I began preschool at 3, I am not going back to school. I don’t need the new notebooks, the tech updates, the highlighters, or the color-coded pens. (I still have my stash, for one thing, but now I use them for work instead of color-coding classes.) I don’t need to review my course list and make sure I know how to get to classes. I don’t need to order textbooks. I’m not going back, I’m just continuing to figure out my version of adulthood.

This picture is just everything I love about back to school. Fresh notebooks, warm study drinks, cozy fall clothes, and a good set-up to focus on my studies. I’m probably romanticizing a bit, but it’s true…

I was always one of those people who loved school. I thrived in it. I love learning new things. I love books. I love figuring things out that I haven’t figured out before, seeing new problems and new solutions and new angles. I love adjusting my glasses and digging through databases and reading all kinds of material in an attempt to gain a decent understanding of a new topic. I love being pushed to constantly improve, in a consistent and respectful learning environment. I love school.

That’s not to say I miss everything about school. I’m glad to have more control over my schedule, and to be able to more freely choose where I work and what those work schedules look like. I’m glad to be away from some of the Pharisaical attitudes that are unfortunately an inherent part of attending a religious school. I’m glad to be paid to work now, instead of paying for the opportunity to do work. But I also miss it. I miss having access to people on a daily basis who also thrive on conversing about ethics and morals and evidence. I miss being able to truly debate, without fear or frustration, but with people who care as much as I do. It’s a whole lot of bittersweet with not a lot of closure.

I’m glad to be done, and I’m proud of my achievement… It just feels weird. I keep seeing “back to school” stuff trending and being like “oh crap! I have to find my course list!” and then remembering: I don’t have one. I don’t have to order textbooks. My planner is full of household chores, medical appointments, work, and career goals, without all the classes and homework groups. I’m not going back to school this year, and it’s better that way, but it’s so weird.

We spend nearly two decades (sometimes more) getting settled into the school year shuffle, transitioning from season to season with the academic expectations that come along with each. We get used to shopping back to school sales for supplies, and continually looking forward to summer breaks. In college, we settle into each semester’s rhythm, with move-in and midterms and finals and then, leaving behind a ghost town of a campus when we return home to our own families or with friends over the holidays. School is a huge part of life… until it’s not.

I’ll probably still pick up a few new notebooks, a few nicer pens or art supplies. I’ll be glad to see friends who are still in school come back to the area, and to attend a few alumni events over the course of the year. I’m still incurably connected to the school rhythm, but I’m not in it anymore.

I’m learning to be okay with that.

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