By Chad Dull, vice president of academics,

Minnesota State College Southeast

Do you remember the first day of school when you were growing up? I certainly do. It usually meant I had the new clothes we had bought the week before, and likely a haircut, as well. No matter how many years went by, there was a nervous energy as we got ready to go back and be with our teachers and friends. This shared experience is part of many of us at a nearly molecular level. Coming back to school is a rite of passage, and it is just about time to come back again.

Fall semester is just beginning at Minnesota State College Southeast. It is my second favorite time of the year (graduation is the first). While we have been working all summer and some students have been taking classes, there is just something special about the start of the regular academic year. Maybe it’s the rhythm so many of us remember from our childhood, as summer winds down and we get ready for new beginnings. Or maybe it’s just the feeling of people coming in the doors to pursue a new and better future for themselves. Whatever it is, there is an energy to having classes start and students back on campus that makes for a feeling like no other.

This fall looks much more “normal” than last fall. Currently, the only adjustment we are making for safety related to the pandemic is requiring masks in our buildings. We will be able to hold classes on campus, which is where so many of our students want to be. We will continue with world class online education for those who need the access and opportunity online learning provides.

As I said, every fall has a special energy, but this year it feels different. Our staff and faculty are so anxious to have students back on campus and in the classroom. I think we missed each other when we were more limited in how we could connect.

For myself, I’m anxious to smell the sawdust in the construction lab in Winona and hear the sounds of students playing music together in Red Wing. I’m eager to look in on instructors teaching math classes and to watch students wiring circuit boards. I’m excited that students will be back on campus to learn the art of auto body repair and the science of environmental chemistry.

We are all anxious to see the faces of students on day one who have placed their trust in us to help them find the life they want. Maybe they want to transfer to a university or be a welder, a nurse, or a truck driver. It doesn’t really matter — what matters to us is that they chose us to help them get there.

My first memory of the first day of school was in kindergarten. My teacher’s name was Mrs. Wise, seriously. It had been more than four decades since that day and I can still pull the memories up with ease. There was so much excitement, and anxiety, and the promise that something really amazing might happen. All these years later, I can feel all those emotions coming up again as we prepare for our national rite of passage and welcome in another group of people with the courage to chase their dreams.

So, whether you are on campus in Winona, Red Wing, or online, we are thrilled to welcome you back. Welcome back to the first day of school, and to the first day of the rest of your life. Thank you for letting us be part of it.