It turned out that I wasn't good at doing school. I was a poor student. My routines were either erratic or unproductive and the results I achieved mirrored that. Still, I muddled through. I managed to complete the required credits and now I stood with wonderful people in caps and gowns waiting to celebrate and honor an institution. A scenic trail that started at Gibbs was finishing here.
My first time waking up in Gibbs Hall was during fall semester orientation; these were the days of TOPS -- the Total Orientation Plan for Students. The idea had been such established that college is what I was supposed to do; a standard expectation of life. And so it turned out that I'd attend FAMU. Thus began an experience that improved the way I see myself, the world, and the people in it.
I didn't know what to expect from campus life, so we -- my folks and me -- showed up prior to the start of classes for TOPS to learn the land. Insider information was wanted and I knew I'd get some here. Case in point; because I was new to campus, I mistakenly believed that the place I now call alma mater was situated in Tallahassee. I'd come to learn the mantra in its cadence, as insiders have, that more specifically, The Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University, founded October 3, 1887 sits atop the highest of seven hills in the capital city of Tallahassee.
Nearly everything seemed novel. The minutes were filled with plenty of newness like the thousands of faces I'd not yet named. Many daps were exchanged and I took a liking to the one most readily accessed in my new locale; slap-slide-grip-snap. My first days of college had come before me. Now, I'd be settling in to my housing assignment.
The option to stay in a hotel with my folks was offered openly, but no. I sheeted one of the two extra long twin mattresses then placed a small blanket at its foot. A green blanket with my first name embroidered in orange. I wanted to sleep in my dorm room, so I made myself comfortable and did just that. When I'd wake, I'd meet my roommate.
The door opened inward. It made me wake. In a clumsy hurry I hobbled up off the mattress while fielding a simple pleasantry that passed from the small cluster of entrants to me. The hobble continued as I made my way on to the balance of crutches and passed pleasantry back to the one among the cluster people who wore a picked-out natural; his 'fro was the realest 'fro.
"Wusup? I'm Keegan." He was Kijani. I was his roommate. I dressed and small talk circulated in the room through Kijani, his cluster, and me.
Our dorm room, Gibbs Hall 401, was straight. Kijani and I had a spot on the fourth floor and it was a corner room. In this building, that meant more space and comfort. We had modes of entertainment that we would come to enjoy together; games, movies, and music at the roots. EA's College Football game series for Playstation would come to stage classic matchups and Hitman would reinforce our training as world-class agents of silent destruction. Friday, Happy Gilmore, and The Substitute 3 would come to be repeated one thousand times. Allthewhile, we'd curate music playlists that stayed on point. I had spent my first night, then nights, in Gibbs Hall. And so the classes came.
I'd had surgery to remove a cyst from my right ankle during Summer Break, so I started college in a cast with crutches. Imagine me as I was on the first day of class, the spitting image of a pitiful little freshman, eager and naive in my skin-and-bone frame, donning my cast and frolicking about in three-legged fashion with standard issue grey crutches. And, oh the hills. The hills, the hills, the hills I conquered to get to math class on its first day. To move from my living quarters in Gibbs Hall to the class in Jackson Davis I had to traverse, becrutched mind you, a space likened to what Atreyu saw while seeking the Southern Oracle. I wanted to get off to a fast start. Plus, word is that you get dropped for missing a class's first day. So, there I was primed and ready to make my mathly way.
Regarding classes' sizes, sometimes there were many of us, sometimes our number was fewer. Day one math was a smaller detachment of unnamed faces and I stood out like a sore foot. Compound that with this. I didn't understand a thing that was being thrown on the board in front of me. There was so much information. But I took every note.
I was still in a desk when I heard from above me, "Keegan?" I also heard an unsaid, "I presume?"
I looked up and nodded in the positive.
He went on, "I figured from the," he stopped.
I hadn't even packed yet. I was still taking notes, but he waited. This was Dhati and he had picked me out the of crowd.
Dhati was a smart kid with a bright future. He'd just graduated from the University High School in my hometown. This is where Mom worked and because she knew directly Dhati's promise she instructed me to find him, meet him, and do with the meeting what I saw fit.
I'd just linked with Dhati and he'd picked me out of the crowd. Now he was helping with my backpack. He had come and eased the life of a crutch like me. We got my pack strapped to my back and left the building.
With pleasantries, we walked and during I asked myself, "Is he really about to follow me all the way back to my room?"
He did and there he met Kijani. And there we were three, which often we'd be, in the corner room.
My first days of college had come before me. I had laid my hat. I had connected to a gentleman of promise. My bet was that my roommate was one too. Together, we had broken bread. In those first days of college I felt I had gained my foundation, at least temporarily, until academia put them paws to me. I proved to be academically weak. I was a player without a playbook. I knew about success traits like keeping to-do lists and planners, learning study habits and skills, but I never cemented a plan. I just chased great ideas that I thought were plans. Nevertheless, there I was on Commencement Day.
Those first days on The Hill had presented a different version of me. Some things rang similar. Kijani and I were marching adjacent in the procession. He proved his promise as did Dhati. We still ate together many weekends. In that collective instance, I went out like I came in. But I had moved on from Gibbs and lived in a few other places with a few other people; each imprinting in me unique touches. By curiosity, I had followed the lead of a mysterious sign. It was a chance happening that led to good work. I had been immersed in a whole of people who contributed to theater, music, film, et al. in unidentifiably familiar ways. I'm far more grateful now than then that I participated. Combining skills and interests, I tinkered with entrepreneurial ideas and accepted the call to hold creation above consumption.
I noticed the adornments of others' caps and shoulders; those of academic distinction drew my interest. I didn't earn them, so I didn't mind not having them. I struggled, true, but I did not shun learning. I moved about eager to meet the demands of my curiosity by complementing my studies pursuing work, art, trade, and social cultures. I was content with my day and moment. I was graduating.