Summer session: the way college was meant to be

You just want to graduate on time and get out of this place — this huge, impersonal, cold and sometimes unforgiving collection of buildings and students, right?
You had probably thought you should work, too, to earn money for tuition bills, food, summer concerts or even next winter’s trip to Steamboat.
But you found that the “booming” job market we have heard a lot about still consists mostly of $7.50/hour. jobs in the fast food industry. “No quiero Taco Bell!” you said.
So you decided, as a last resort, it was time to get some of those blasted degree requirements out of the way. Might as well be sooner than later. Then finally, without a hope or a prayer, you signed up for summer sessions I and II.
You grumbled, “My worst nightmare — in class all summer long while I could be working or doing something even more meaningful, like having fun.” But now you are here with me and a handful of other students, all of us who are about to discover a summer experience that will not be regretted.
In fact, you should congratulate yourself. You should even turn to that student sitting next to you in class, or walking by on the Washington Avenue Bridge, and — right now — shake his or her hand. Welcome him or her to the select group of students who are about to find out how wrong the rest of the student body’s preconceptions about summer classes really are.
We are among the elite students who have more than just the time necessary for summer classes. We’ve got guts.
All of those wimpy, neo-traditional four-year students have told us they wouldn’t stoop to the level of taking summer classes. Now, we all know their resistance was only because of a lack of intellectual endurance.
Even the most weathered seniors and graduate students probably came to summer classes fearing the worst. But the vast majority of us have survived the first week with ease.
Summer session virgins, rest assured, overcoming your first week’s bout with fear and loathing is really the only obstacle you will encounter for the next three months.
Simply watch, with all due surprise, how the bitterness at not being on some fat cat’s boat out on Lake Minnetonka, sipping on gin and tonics, or applying for jobs, or worse, working at one, will melt away in the gentle summer sun high above campus. Take peaceful refuge in the cool benevolent shade of the University’s incomparable collection of trees, centuries old. Notice how serene the once cluttered West Bank looks. Feast your head on the classics of literature, quantum mechanics or perhaps your favorite campus newspaper, all at a pace determined by you. Take your own front row seat to any one of the free concerts that will pop up on Northrop Mall — they are bound to jazz up your steps to day or evening lessons.
Folks, we have it made in the shade. This summer session route is one of the best kept secrets in town.
You will find that the schedules of almost anyone on either side of campus are more flexible this time of year. You probably already found that the classes are still about as well-structured as those you attended last fall, winter or spring. There are just fewer of them to choose from because the majority of students jumped boat.
The demands of the season are minimal, even better than a vacation. Competition for grades will be less strenuous, because the few of us still here are just in this for the requirements. Simply read your books and go to classes at a level that you feel comfortable.
Parking won’t even be the perpetual hassle it has been for commuters. Nor will there be the usual lines at the bookstore, the Wilson circulation desk or the campus coffee shops and bars. Before long, it is going to sink in — this is what academia should be about, anyway, all the time.
The realization first hit me during my first summer session as a University senior in 1994. I had previously thought that the only purpose of being a student at the University was finding out how I get out of the University via graduation or anything that might come along to foot the bill.
The summer of ’94 went on to make the legendary, hippie Summer of Love look like a waste of time.
My German classes, for example, consisted of sitting on the lawn in front of Nicholson Hall, ruminating over readings from Remarque, drinking iced coffee, pulling blades of grass, smoking cigarettes, and — because O.J. had just hit the scene — trying to decide who was more criminal, the SS or “the Dream Team.”
Every single day, for three months (this was before the attack of El Ni¤o), it was 80 degrees with cloudless skies. A cool dry breeze would wisp around whenever students, meditating on the front lawns of buildings around campus, needed to be brought back to their lessons; total zenyata mondata, my friends.
At the end of summer session I, the German class tied up our discussions in a big round of SpÑtzels and Hacker Pschorr at the Black Forrest Inn. Fantastisch!
Then it was on to the second session and the Zen sessions all over again.
Kick back and sink your teeth into prime time at the University. How sweet it is. Surrender to the laid-back pace of life on campus and let it take you to the heights of intellectual bliss.
Get ready for summer studies that those poor slobs out on the lake or working their temp jobs were certain they should miss. While they are grinding away, we will get to see a side of campus they would never have dreamed of during those long and cold fall, winter and spring quarters.
Go with your Zen — those basic summer instincts you’ve had ever since you were a kid — and have fun. Learn what you can in an ideal campus environment and, if all else fails, give me a holler. I’m always looking for someone with whom I can practice those German skills.

Gregory Borchard’s column will appear each Friday this summer. He can be reached with comments via e-mail at [email protected]