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A suit, a suitcase and a typewriter

William Stewart | Thursday, April 8, 2010

When my father left his childhood bedroom for the Louisiana State University Agricultural and Mechanical College in the late summer of 1967, he possessed three things: a tailored suit, a luggage set and a typewriter. He had acquired all three at separate times immediately surrounding, but, more significantly, on account of his graduation from high school. So, when my time came to leave the lockers of senior hall behind, my father was insistent that I take careful time in securing my own versions of the three commencement items. My mother tried to explain why they were so important to him, but I just shrugged and rode shotgun on the way to Men’s Warehouse. There were way too many graduation parties and salutatory addresses demanding my concentration.
Two years later, I find myself checking an over-sized rolling duffel at the airline counter, buttoning up the three-button pinstripe armor before braving formal events and spending a large majority of time with my fingers on the keys of my computer. Look in my room and you will see that these have a special place among my other belongings: right there with my books and the picture of my family and my iPod and my speakers and my sneakers and my futon and my postcard collection and my camera and my snow boots and my posters and those energy-efficient bulbs I have yet to install and that strand of Christmas lights I grabbed off of a tree on the side of the road last winter break.
All right, so you wouldn’t necessarily be inclined to notice them any more than anything else in my hovel of strange junk. And it would be safe to assume that, on most days, the suit or the suitcase or the computer doesn’t strike me either. Truth be told, individually, they are no more than societal necessities, common objects to be found in any one of my neighbors’ rooms. However, every once in a while, that little picturesque legend of my father, dressed up, suitcase in one hand, portable typewriter in the other, floats into my mind and I try to understand what those things meant to him.
For centuries, higher education has represented a furthering and intensification of individual, intellectual instruction. To a certain extent, this remains and will always remain its function: assimilation of information, profession of the knowledge by some and the demonstration by others of comprehension of such knowledge.
Yet, the longer I am here at this University, the more I feel that an equally important (though perhaps implicit or even overlooked) role of college is the social formation of the individual. For most, the university acts as a catalyst for our transition from adolescence into adulthood, a catalyst for independence and autonomy. We (or at least some of us) are pushed from the nest of our parents and made nomads for a time, allowed to roam. We are asked to interact with adults more as peers than as authorities. We are encouraged to develop our own thoughts and worldview. Curse ResLife or the latest assignment for a paper from Philosophy, but college is our society’s way of making us responsible for our own thoughts and actions. College forces us to recognize our own person: individual, free and capable.
My father steps onto the Louisiana State University campus. He wears a suit, a sign of his age and of his newly earned status as a man, no longer a boy. He carries a suitcase, symbolic of his having no tethers to home, fettered to nothing and no one, able to settle in any land he may choose. And he punches out letters on a little, tan Brother typewriter, the keys that can unlock his means to expression and materialize his thoughts or pin down the world he sees onto fields of 20-pound white.
Perhaps this image allows me to better appreciate the profundity of those three gifts with which I left home. Perhaps distinguishing their significance among my room of superfluities allows me to distinguish my necessary significance among this world of banalities.

William Stewart is a sophomore majoring in the Program of Liberal Studies. He can be contacted at [email protected]
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.