Smile Politely

The Over-Under Grad

Travel back in time with me. It’s the year 1987. A shy, nondescript young man begins his college education at Illinois State University. He can truly be classified as a nerd (for the millennials out there, before Chris Hardwick solely made that word the ground-breaking measure of excellence it is today, it was not too great). High school did not go well for him but… the University! It signified a fresh start for so many of us. And so he went in determined to make something of himself. 

And slowly but surely… it happened. His humble beginnings can be traced to his living quarters in 1-North, the basement floor of Walker Hall (the greatest residence hall that ever existed) and the dwelling space of R.E.M. (the Real Easy Men). There, he became friends with many who remain his friends to this day. He tried to be more outgoing and social. He began to tell jokes but failed miserably, earning him the moniker “Lame Joke Lad”. But he kept trying…and from then on, he developed a rapier-sharp wit while ingratiating himself with a wide swath of people on all four floors of the Hall, from Honors to International House students and everyone in between. Surprisingly, he was named Mr. Walker Hall three years in a row, a title that he still revels in to this day. (Look, that’s all he’s got…don’t take it away from him.)

The Bugs-Babbs Killer Bee Connection was unstoppable back in the day, and so was that hair.

But where did this man travel to since his halcyon days of undergraddom? (By the way, this man is me, so let’s drop the third person, shall we? I’m no Rock.)

Well, that miraculous job post-graduation never panned out. Tired of delivering Chinese food and sandwiches, I went back for a second Bachelor’s degree  but once again, the career eluded me. Four kids… eh, they’re okay. Many great friends scattered about the country from legendary groups of old but I still find companionship lacking. And now? Another reset as I pursue my Advanced Study degree at the iSchool. I’m currently in my fifth year of graduate school at the school formerly known as the Graduate School of Library and Information Science and I find myself at a crossroads. I’m tiredm I’m overwhelmed, I’m not sure what I want in life. So here I sit at Murphy’s Pub (the official bar of my library school student cohort), not sure what will give my life meaning any more.

Ah, beer. You never let me down or cause me to second-guess your friendship.

But wait: let me reread what I’ve written. I achieved my initial greatness as an undergrad. Maybe, just maybe, I didn’t do everything after undergrad life right. Maybe that’s why I’m floundering. I didn’t do it RIGHT!! I think this is a sign from the Heavens. I have to perform the proverbial hard reset and live my undergrad life over to experience all the experiences!! I have to recapture my greatness heretofore measured by my title as Mr. Walker Hall three years running!! (See what I mean?)

And I need to chronicle it so that everyone can live vicariously through me and enjoy all that this lifestyle has to offer! So every few weeks for the next year, I will be reliving my undergrad years by engaging in an essential activity that the vast majority of undergrads here on the University of Illinois experience. Some of these activities will be comparable to my activities from my Illinois State days. Others will be brand new. Some may not have even existed 30 years ago. But I am on a journey to reclaim my destiny, my swagger (that’s what the kids say nowadays, right?). And I hope you enjoy the ride!!

All suited up! Bring it on, undergraduate lifestyle! (Thanks to Gameday Spirit for the assist.)

AND I’ve got people along for the ride. You’ll be seeing fellow students both former and current that are better equipped to navigate the new student seas. Also, in order to contrast my sage advice, you’ll be getting a decidedly younger viewpoint as my daughter, Virginia, weighs in on what she thinks college will be like. She is 30 years my junior, and while she wasn’t blessed with my good looks or mental acumen, well, here she is. As for the picture, what can I say? She has the grandeur and the timidity of a 17-year-old and didn’t want to provide a current picture. So here’s The Under-Under Grad with Virginia:

“Hello. My name is Virginia. I’m 17 years old. I’m a daughter of a grad student at the University of Illinois. I work at a retirement home and am a senior in high school. I want to be a dentist. I imagine college will be like looking both ways before crossing the street and still getting hit by an airplane. My dad isn’t cool. I just tolerate him. “

(Hoo boy, maybe this was a mistake. I’ll work on her. Anyway, look for more “words of wisdom” like this every column; apologies in advance.)

I hope you’re ready to go on this adventure with me because I’ve already got my first essential experience lined up!! If you have a great idea on what I need to experience as a “new” undergrad, I’ll take suggestions at theoverundergrad at I’ve got some ideas but I really want to hear what you think. Go Illini and ‘Shut Up and Dance with Me’! (That’s still popular, right? I can pretty much hang with the kids even without this experiment!)

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