Years end, years begin

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A sketch of a watch, showing the time as midnight and the month as April.
Sometimes I wish that not checking the time would stop time. gio1135 via pixabay, manipulated by lee lim

Somewhat coherent musings about the passage of time on campus

It is that time of the year again. The snow has melted, hopefully for good this time. Trees are about to get a new life, and warm sunny days are not as rare as they were for the last little while. Winter is on the way out, and spring is upon us. On college campuses, this also means the winter term is wrapping up and people are getting busy, if not overwhelmed, with all the demands of end-of-semester rush.  

Soon we will be informed that Archer Library is open for extended hours during exam season. The gyms will be prepared for holding exams with hundreds of students. For a while, this campus will be busy and people will hardly have time to stand in the Tim’s line for coffee. 

I guess few undergrad students get to see what comes after. Once the exams are done, and the food services reduce hours in anticipation of a far less busy campus over the spring and summer terms. Not a lot of classes are offered over the summer, and the campus feels either serene or haunted, depending, I suppose, on who you ask and which day you ask them. As a graduate student, I am one of those who are around all summer, every summer. Like many other graduate students, I look forward to the summer months, free from distractions and teaching duties, to focus on my own research.  

However, this year feels a little different. This year I feel like a timeless being, standing outside the constraints of clocks and calendars, watching life go on as if cursed to bear witness to the passage of time. 

Maybe it’s because this was the first full school year, in some sense, since the pandemic. A lot more classes were being held in-person, the campus was more crowded, food services had better hours, and, in general, this place was once again full of life. Perhaps that is what makes the contrast of the imminent summer all the more substantial. Or perhaps it is the fact that this year, as the school year wraps up, I must bid farewell to many familiar faces who wrap this part of their journey.  

I come from a faraway land where college campuses once used to be nothing short of sacred. Indeed, it is no exaggeration to say that my nation exists solely because, sometime in the 60s, college campuses of erstwhile East Pakistan began the conversation about nationalism, self-determination, and representation in the government of the day. In some ways, we know the Pakistan Army did not forgive this transgression by colleges.  

On the first night of the military operation meant to crush the dreams of Bengali sovereignty, they rolled tanks into college campuses. On the last week before their inevitable defeat, they killed hundreds of thought leaders and public intellectuals on those same campuses. I sometimes wonder how the enemy clearly showed us what they feared most about us, and then I wonder why we let our college campuses turn into dens of sycophancy, low cunning, and base aspirations. I find it ironic how my nation destroyed the thing that our enemies could not. 

But I digress. Between being a student in one undergraduate and multiple graduate programs, and even having a short stint as an instructor, at this point more than half of my life has been spent on college campuses. It gives me hope and joy to see the campus fill up again every fall. It warms my heart to see the sparkle of curiosity in the eyes of a freshman in a lecture, because it reminds me of the same awe and wonder I felt in that same lecture, just in a different time and world.  

I take consolation in the fact that in a world that has gone so wrong in so many ways, there are still minds on college campuses that are driven by a passion for knowledge, a wonder about the big questions, and a drive for truth and justice.  

So, I will get some work done this summer. Spend a lot of time outdoors. And, come fall, I will wait to see this campus once again welcome back a new influx of learners, seekers, and wonderers. Good luck to everyone for exams, and all that lies ahead! 

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