It's been a long day and evening. In fact, I am posting this at 1:24 a.m. So, it's a Tuesday, but to me it is still Monday night.
Earlier tonight, a friend asked me, "How was the first day of you first week of your first semester as president." With one word, I smiled and replied, "Wonderful."
I'm not sure what I expected. Fanfare and balloons? A marching band? No, not at UHD. I was curious how they would celebrate the new semester. Every campus is different on the first day of class.
I arrived early this morning. The lines are longer in some areas, but shorter than I expected. At UHD, the wait for the elevator was endless. I watched students pour out of the MetroRail and wait to get into the doors of the main building. The third floor, which serves as the main lobby and student union, was packed.
After several morning meetings, at 11 a.m., I donned my Gator T-shirt and made for the main deck. I expected to be crushed by the many freshmen pushing their way to class and through the long lines of registration. I was pleasantly disappointed.
There were plenty of students, but the lines were very reasonable. Most had made it through registration and financial aid last week. There were lots of students in the bookstore. Staff and volunteers stood behind tables offering goodies: pens, water, snow cones, and yellow Gator T-shirts.
Outside in the South patio a volunteer challenged me to throw a basketball. A member of the Weight Team had just won a prize. He told me he is excited, because this year we have a very good team. Last year, the team received several awards.
My first shot skidded off the backboard and into the hoop. I should have stopped there. I learned that the volunteer is both a student and the director of a program in the community. We talked about her program and how we might get more students involved. Then, I threw again, the ball just slid off the rim. I joked, "I hope I make a better president than a basketball player."
On the north end, near the MetroRail, a large air-filled rubber Gator with a goofy smile bobbed in the wind. It was about ten feet tall. Like any good president being followed by students and egged on by a cameraman, I shook hands with the Gator. I was quickly joined by a woman who works in the bookstore. We took a picture under the mascot. I probably wore the same goofy smile as the Gator.
I then learned that we have a cheer-leading squad. Cheerleaders? Yep, in red with white skirts, except, of course, for the lone male cheer leader who is tall and could easily be a basketball player. The cheer leading team is pretty good. I watched them do a cheer. They lift up the squad leader, swung her in the air and caught her. I chanted along with them. Then, I had my picture taken with the whole crew.
Afterward, I went to the cafeteria, spoke with students and had lunch. What can I say, it's a cafeteria! Actually, the food wasn't bad and there were more choices today than last week (as more food stations were open). They even have sushi!
As usual, much of the day was filled with meetings. I continue to meet faculty and staff. Every day I learn more. Today, I realized that I have gained a sense of the buildings. I actually helped several students and two lost parents find their way through the maze.
At the end of the day, as I walked toward the elevators, several students asked me if I was their professor. It was understandable, after all, I wore a tie and carried a brief case.
The heavy rain had backed-up traffic. I explained that students and professors were tied up trying to get in and out of the parking lots. In fact, it was worse than I expected. Students were double-parking, rushing out of their cars to make it to class. The city police were giving out tickets. Some cars parked illegally were towed.
But, most students and most instructors made it to class, if not on time, at least dry. The pouring rain stopped just before the beginning of the evening onslaught of night students. Student lined the hallways. Some sat on floors waiting for the beginning of class.
UHD at night is different than during the day. The students are older. Most of them work at nearby locations. You see more adults in their 30s or 40s. I ran into an older man who I mistook as a professor. It turns out he is a 60 year old student--a former business owner, taking economics with the hope of beating the stock market. Good luck to that!
As I drove with a friend to have dinner with colleagues from the University of Houston campus, I smiled. It was like any other campus on the first day of the semester: crowded, not enough parking, and long lines at the bookstore.
But, there was patience among the students. I bet on these students. They're going to do well. They are serious. They are determined. They are Gators!