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Chuck Brooks: No longer back to school but back in time

Well, it's nearing time for those seniors who graduated this past June and planned to continue their education to pack up and head off to college; others who have put in a year or more of university life are gearing up to return for yet another year.

As wonderful as retirement is, I still have to declare those years at Eau Claire being the best years of my life. 'Tis why I'm always just a bit jealous when I chat with former students who are at that stage of their lives right now.

The way I've always described college life is it's the best of both worlds. You no longer live under the rules of the parents' house. Independence is thy middle name. Yet, should misfortune befall you, Mom and Dad are always the safety net to catch your fall from the "real world." It will never be that way again.

As I've written numerous times, I did not immediately run off to college three months after graduating. However, three and a half years later, it was time to seek a better life. I chose the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire because my brother, five years older, had attended the school, and, having visited the school while he was there, I thought it was the school for me as well.

One of my favorite movies to watch this time of the year is "One on One.' Robby Benson, the protagonist, is a high school basketball phenom who is recruited to attend a university, scholarship and all, for his skills on the court. When the coach is disappointed with how Benson performs as a player, the scholarship deal is redacted and Benson's conflict is revealed. It's not so much that storyline which has me enjoying it yearly, but rather it's the movie's feeling of a new freshman on a college campus and learning all the ins and outs of being a student away from home.

A new life

When I left for college, it was January. I was 22. I roomed with a friend of mine from my hometown who was three years younger. After the first semester, we discovered that decision wasn't in our friendship's best interest.

By fall, which was also my second semester, I had been given a new roommate and life was much better. He and I were strangers, but we got along well. I recently reconnected with him via email thanks to the RA reunion. He'd go back to his home state of Minnesota on weekends because his family ran a "booth" at the Metrodome where they sold programs and souvenirs during football season.

With one year behind me, I applied and became a resident assistant. In that same year, I began "Wing Feud,' the campus version of "Family Feud," with my head resident; the show continued for at least 25 more years. I have always been someone who couldn't just do the barebones minimum. I could no more be happy just going to my classes than I could be just teaching. That's why I got involved with theater, student council and other activities beyond my RHS classroom.

Maturing

Being older in college than my peers was already a plus, but I knew I was growing up while I was there. I could sense the changes in me. College was also where I learned of my only niece passing away at 7 months of age on a Friday night. It was where I was when Mom called me the day before she'd be going in to the hospital for a minor surgical procedure. However, that minor surgery turned into a mastectomy and with it came the news she had a 50-50 chance of living five more years. College had its bad days as well as its good days.

After two years of dormitory life, I headed off campus to live in a house owned by a woman who also lived there while renting three rooms to college guys.

During that time, I took a part-time job at one of the nicer establishments in downtown — Houligans. I was a waiter. I have my share of stories. However, it was a fun job overall. I was meeting people constantly. I loved it. Go figure.

After a year there, I moved to the outskirts of Eau Claire and lived with a fellow RA in a ritzy apartment complex. The only way I could afford it was because I had been given some money by an individual who I'll write a column about some time. From there, it was off to Rice Lake to student teach after which I'd finally venture into a foreign state to begin my career.

Yes sireee! College life pretty much rocked.

And now I live vicariously through the adventures of my students turned undergrads. Mine's a good life, but I'm still a tinge jealous.

Words like county and state fairs, college and NFL football are entering the daily mix. August is just getting started, but can words like "autumn" and "chill in the air" be far behind? Hmmmm ...

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