When you live in a small community with a major university the seasons are often defined by the academic calendar rather than the Gregorian Calendar. Where the Gregorian calendar begins in January (shortly after the start of winter), the traditional academic calendar begins in the dog days of summer long before the autumn chill and shortening days bring out the beautiful fall foliage. Summer and fall are undoubtedly the most popular months for tourists in Maine where visitors often outnumber locals. So places like Bar Harbor, Belgrade Lakes Region and Down East can be relatively quiet places for 8-9 months of the year without the influx of vacationers. It is quite the opposite for University communities where students begin to arrive for the new semester in August, nearly doubling the population of the small towns that surround them. With the exception of a few breaks for holidays, our towns are bustling with activity for 8-9 months a year.
This infusion of young people with their energy and hope are one of the reasons that we chose to retire to this place in Maine. They see all the possibilities that lay before them and still believe that anything is possible. Their spirit can lift us up and keep us moving forward and open to trying new things. When school is in session there is always a sporting event, a lecture, a musical performance or theatrical performance, an art exhibit, and so much more that help to enhance the quality of life in our communities. In addition we have access to the largest research library in Maine, a state of the art fitness and recreation facility, a planetarium, and a first class performing arts center. We locals have the opportunity to use the talents we have developed during our lifetimes to enrich the lives of the students as well. I have volunteered as a conversation partner for foreign students to help them improve their english skills. I am a coordinator for a program called Women of the World that helps students, faculty and community members recognize and appreciate cultural differences while raising money for scholarships for study abroad. Even something as simple as baking Christmas cookies for student workers at the campus fitness center and the Navy House helps me to feel a part of the university community.
To be fair, the intersection of town and gown does present challenges, especially at times of transition. For example, on Welcome Back Weekend close to fifteen thousand students arrive with all of their personal belongings in tow and set up residences in dorms, houses and apartments within a few miles of campus. Grocery stores, restaurants, and department stores are clogged as these young people settle into their temporary homes. It is the same process in reverse come May when they discard the things they don’t want to store or haul back to their folks or on to their new jobs and lives. They sometimes party too loudly, not respecting that they are sharing the neighborhood with folks who just might have to get up early and go to work. But on the whole, I believe this unique relationship helps to enrich the lives of the community members as well as the students and I wouldn’t want it any other way.