Coming back to ‘Trenton State’

By David Rago

Class of 1977 and current student

Back in the 1970s, Trenton State College hosted various artists in Kendall Hall, including Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. (Bobby Oliver).

It had been nearly 34 years since I last attended a class at the College back in 1977, when I was unceremoniously booted due to academic underperformance. Facts were undeniable — 1.9 GPA, circumstances extenuating — young family, a two year old daughter and three jobs, and work was unfinished — 20 credits short of a degree. I was pretty much done with school at that point and my chosen profession as an art and antiques dealer had no need of a framed certificate on the wall. But for reasons that remained unclear, I was confident, if allowed, I would eventually return.

I understood that, my first day back here, things were certain to be different beyond the new name, but most change manifests in unexpected ways. I saw immediately upon entering the class there were no longer ashtrays scattered on desk tops. Students were toner, more fashion conscious, with smaller sideburns and more chin hair. The student center had been for years a sorry prefab with fluorescent lighting and a few sofas apparently stolen from a Motel Six. The College Union Board (CUB) is advertising a trip to see Jersey Boys in Manhattan, but we got to see the real jersey boys, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, right here in Kendall Hall. Billy Joel, Bonnie Raitt, and others also played for about 10 bucks a shot. Trenton State was perceived as a party school, with a female to male ratio reportedly at eight to one. The Rathskeller was serving cheap beer and sangria because the drinking age was 18. Classic rock blared before it became classic rock. Serious learning was available, but you had to be here for that to happen (hence the 1.9 GPA).

The thing that had most changed in that 34 year hiatus was my expectations of college, if not myself. At some point I realized that, regardless of my regrettable academic accomplishments from the 1970s, something must have stuck. As an English lit major I was forced to read and write and attend classes with names like Descriptive Linguistics. In lieu of a degree I had at least learned to make friends with our mother tongue. In the land of the linguistically challenged (the art and antiques world), the one-handed typist is an exception. What? You can write? Speak publically? Move to the front. And so was ushered the slow dawning awareness of just how good this college had been to me, and how unappreciative in return I had been of the privilege.

So why am I telling you this and, more to the point, why should you care? The simple truth is that, through the fog of the occasional bong hit, is the fast approaching reality of the rest of your life, coming at you like a spider monkey. Every course you manage to make your own becomes another arrow in your quiver. You may never use it, but you will know it is there because you will feel the weight of it. The timeless truism of students is that we will never use most of this stuff anyway. Do not believe that for a second. Algebra? Try doing simple percentages without it. World history? Only if you plan to travel. Descriptive Linguistics? Priceless.

Thoreau said that true knowledge is arriving some place again and being there for the first time. Or was that Emerson? Whatever. It is so good to be back at Trenton State.