Whenever I think of the first day of school, I think of a specific photo of myself standing outside of my grandparents’ apartment in Rio. I’m 3 years old, wearing a school uniform, holding a clear backpack and grinning from cheek to cheek. My parents had put me and my sister in school in Rio during parts of July and August, and I was so excited to be able to attend.
While I enjoyed school in Brazil during these months, I would always come back to New York and feel “first-day jitters” as the school year began. I remember saying goodbye to my parents on the first day of kindergarten and immediately feeling like a fish out of water. During that first week of elementary school, my parents had given me my first digital watch so that I could feel more at ease by knowing what time it was in the classroom.
Unfortunately for my kindergarten teacher, this meant that I would announce what time it was every couple minutes, and would even critique her schedule on the blackboard, nudging her when we were running late and telling her that we were spending too much time on reading and should switch over to math.
Eventually, my teacher had enough, and during parent-teacher conferences, she told my parents that she did not want me wearing a watch to school anymore. Of course, as a 5-year-old, this news was hard for me to hear, and it was a rough transition showing up to school with a bare wrist and no sense of time.
By the time I reached sixth grade, I no longer had the issue of annoying my teachers with my watch, but I still had trouble adjusting on the first day of school. Transitioning to middle school overwhelmed me; the concept of having multiple classes back to back rather than having one teacher the whole day instantly confused me and put me into a frenzy.
I came home on the first day, frantic to organize all of my school supplies and to create endless binders for each subject area. I stayed up late and was so overwhelmed by the first day that I woke up the next day with a fever and a massive migraine.
While not all of my first days of school have been this dramatic or intense, I always get a little sentimental toward the end of August. Something about bidding farewell to summer and letting go of my more easygoing and relaxed mentality makes me feel uneasy. As I transition back into the school year, I always feel like I’m losing a piece of myself: a piece of myself that will soon be buried under never-ending homework assignments, grueling exams and constant commitments.
This past summer, I was able to visit my family in Brazil for the first time since the start of the pandemic. I rejoiced in finally having the opportunity to see my grandparents, uncle, cousins and friends and being able to spend quality time with loved ones. I was even able to pick up my 3-year-old cousin from school one day with his little backpack and uniform, which reminded me of my photo from so many years ago.
As the end of August approached, I was in denial about summer ending, but I simultaneously recognized the need to get back into my routine. I have now officially started my sophomore year of college. And, because of the pandemic, this is my first fall semester on campus. While it seems weird to see freshmen on campus having a normal Orientation Week and a traditional transition to campus, I am just so glad to be back.
It feels surreal to finally have classes in person, to carry a backpack filled with school supplies and to wave to friends across the quad on the way to class. It’s the greatest sense of normalcy that I’ve felt since the beginning of college.
This year, my first day of class was filled with joy. I sat in an actual classroom for the first time in a year and a half, and I got to go into The News-Letter’s Gatehouse for the first time.
As I look back on all of my first days of school, I remember that little kid who grinned from cheek to cheek in the hallway of his grandparents’ apartment — a kid who was so excited to learn, grow and explore. I’d tell him to get rid of those first-day jitters, and just smile, because it’s the first day of school.
Gabriel Lesser is a sophomore from Westchester, N.Y. studying Neuroscience and Romance Languages. He is a Social Media Manager for The News-Letter. His column explores his memories along with his current reflections and the lessons that he has learned.