On Tuesday I woke up at four in the morning and trudged over to Steinman College Center to stand in line for the designated period of first-defense schedule changes. While waking up that early is a tragedy for anyone under the age of 75 in itself, I hardly suffered in comparison to some of my peers. Indeed, when I arrived the line was already 50 strong.
The first students in line had been waiting since midnight in a bid to receive the courses they wanted for next semester. It should also be noted the temperature in these early hours was below freezing. This was dedication personified. However, necessity played just as large a part as dedication for the souls who braved the cold.
It is well known that many students received less than four courses for next semester, amounting to an incomplete schedule. One of my luckless friends received only one class and to add more woe it was not a class he wanted. With so many students needing classes to complete their schedule, in addition to the very real clouds bearing the winter’s first snow, metaphorical dark clouds were gathering over the college center. A storm was a’brewin.
When the doors opened at five, the freezing students rushed inside for warmth and, more importantly, to claim a prime seat. The supposed “system of order” was organized by these chairs. Those sitting in chairs in the front row would have the first crack at talking to the registrars and receiving the classes they wanted. Yet, these registrars would not arrive until eight.
Until then, a tense, gloomy mood prevailed inside the building. Students treated their precious chairs like military bunkers, using their backpacks as faux-armor in an effort to keep out “chair-vultures.” Chair-vultures, mysterious predators (usually students) whose chief prey is an open seat, lurked in the shadows, staring covetously at chairs near the front. A chair-vulture bided his/her time until an innocent (I would say naïve) student had the misfortune of leaving his/her bunker unguarded and the chair-vulture would swoop in and claim it as his/her own. It made for an atmosphere fraught with fear and weariness until students started to tire.
By six, half of Steinman was snoozing. All chairs were occupied by now, so students sprawled themselves across the floor or curled up in corners to hibernate. Most comically, one student somehow fell asleep face-down 10 feet from the entrance of the building. Arriving students wore perplexed expressions as they stepped around this casualty from exhaustion.
At quarter to eight the building was packed with new arrivals. The previously dormant students began to stir. The anxiety in the air was palpable at this point, with students bracing for a frantic navigation up to the front of the line. At eight the registrars walked in and sat themselves down at the tables in the front of the room. What ensued was rather disconcerting.
Immediately, everyone in seats jumped up and the students standing in the back piled behind them creating a veritable stampede. And just like that order was destroyed. All thoughts of fairness to the earliest arrivers gave way to a ravenous free-for-all. Indeed, society was the loser on Tuesday, instinct and selfishness the winners. This is a truth that dawned upon all of us as we walked with red faces of embarrassment to our places after the officers established order again.
But this order was only temporary. Human nature had already broken down the barriers of civility and there was no going back. When we were called to line up again, a similar maelstrom of bodies developed in front of the table. More ignoble behavior was exhibited when a group of students who were seen arriving at seven cut into the front of the line.
Their surreptitious demeanors changed to expressions of humorous abashment as their cover was blown to everyone with eyes. This blatant and underhanded plot drew the ire of the early arrivers whose sense of injustice was now at its boiling point. Verbal arguments erupted at some points in line but oddly, the confrontations that cut deepest were silent ones.
In line I found myself in front of a twitchy, nervous fellow who had his laptop out, anxiously checking the course catalog every 30 seconds. He began inching up on the side of me until our shoulders touched. It was clear he wanted my spot. We stood in awkward silence for a minute and I considered muscling my way back into pole position but I thought better of it. Instead, I glanced his way once more to see a pallid face with worried, unblinking eyes. After some hesitation I allowed my desperate and distraught rival in front of me, and not a word was said.
At this stage in the article, some of you may think I have no right to speak about my fellow students’ behavior inside the college center. You have a point. After all, I was in on the madness myself. I can only agree that I am just as guilty as the rest of the mob. I was a part of it all: rushing into the building, viciously guarding my seat, stampeding the registration officers, etc. On this occasion, the moral high ground is for someone else to stand on.
Now, perhaps you are wondering why I am conceding my honor so readily.
Well…I got my class. And it was the final spot, to boot. Everything was worth it, the shame included.
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