Letter from the Editor

Monday, August 26, 2002

Trappings of youth

It generally isn't a great idea to pay too much attention to other people's garbage. There's some things you just don't really want to know about your neighbors.

But when your neighbor is a university, it can be interesting. Buena Vista U's open-sided trash dumpster isn't much of a scenic attraction, but it is smack in the middle of my lunchtime walking route.

It's currently quite visibly flowing with the bits and pieces that last year's students left behind, getting thrown out to make way for the new students' junk.

Along with the usual impossibly stained furniture, there's a do-rag bandanna. A single Berk sandal. A scrap of paper with some rap song lyrics. And what could be the remains of a prodigious example of what in my youth used to be known as a "beer bong." And I think that's a condom packet blowing by over there.

Alright, they've cleaned out the president's office again! (No, no just kidding there.)

In other words, the dumpster contains the trappings of youth, left behind perhaps by graduates who feel such things will not be needed out in the real world of jobs, marriage, kids and taxes.

Pondered a bit, the thing takes on a bit of a shadow-box quality, a familiar sculpture in cast-offs, a metaphor for the shaky state of passage from youth to adulthood.

I suppose we all have our dumpsters, physical, intellectual and emotional. In them we leave the thoughts with springs popping through the old upholstery, the single sandals of feeling that somehow no longer seem to have a match.

What we choose to discard in our lives probably says as much about us as what we choose to keep.

We change. Even long after we pass the coming-of-age stage, we outgrow. Even people, sometimes.

Our ideas may no longer fit our direction. It's usually easier to change the idea than the path, but not always.

And sometimes, years and years later, we wake up one morning and suddenly wish we had back something that we philosophically threw away back when.

I trust the departing students will take plenty with them, more than enough to make up for the scruffy material scraps they left behind.

Lots of knowledge, to be sure. Ambition. Technical know-how. An idea of how to be a successful, buttoned-down professional. Practicality. Good work habits. Career connections. Yeah, and student loan bills for the next quarter-century or so.

I hope they haven't left too much behind with the likes of that lonely sandal, too. Things like imagination, laughter, spontaneity, curiosity, passion, experimentation, open minds, pure youthful joy. It doesn't pay to outgrow them. Who says a bandanna and sandals can't work with an Armani business suit?

This is one of my favorite times of year in Storm Lake. A whole new crop of students will come racing in, bringing with them new style, new music, new thoughts, new faces. Lots of new crap that will be well enjoyed for a time, until it too finds its way to that big dumpster after graduation day.

The university is a crown jewel of Storm Lake, a resource that sets us apart from our self-styled competitor cities. It keeps us young, on our toes.

No, I'm not talking about beer bongs. In fact, it's good to see that the new Liberty residential hall, designated a non-drinking, non-smoking, mentor resident facility, is packed with students who are out to dispel the myth that college students bring little more to a community than revenue for the local bars.

Of course, the intellectual discourse, economic impact, population numbers, lofty speakers and performers attracted to a campus town are among the benefits Storm Lake gets from a town and gown relationship.

But that's not what really gives early fall that exciting feeling in the city. It's simpler than that, yet perhaps more profound.

It's an infusion of youth, and it serves Storm Lake well - a big injection of enthusiasm, spirit, noise, challenge, hope and college football, mainlined straight into the old city's artery.

Ahhh, we needed that.

In a way, the community becomes new again at this time each year.

For all of us, it's out with the old, into the dumpster of collective experience, and in with the new - a shot of community vitality. Welcome, BVU students, welcome.