Compiled by Sonia Tsuruoka
Fading tans and falling temperatures mean it’s that time of year again. As the new academic term approaches, the annual Back to School frenzy has kicked into high-gear, with parents and students of all ages rushing to complete last-minute mall runs and Staples trips in preparation. Of course, this sense of a new beginning — and its accompanying exhilaration — leaves us navigating the chaos of the here-and-now with little retrospection. Yet decades from now, the same bundled nerves and feelings of anticipation surrounding our school-age years may be among the things we recall most sweetly. From nostalgic recollections to elementary-age regrets, Oxford University Press staff members share their fondest Back to School memories.
“As the youngest child in a family with three boys, my Back to School clothes often consisted of my older brothers’ hand-me-downs. I remember feeling embarrassed and self-conscious about my not-so-new Back to School attire. As an adult, a lifelong friend told me that she thought I was cooler than the others because I didn’t show up the first day/week dressed in some crazy trendy outfits our peers plucked from the racks of the Pyramid Mall over in Saratoga, the closest mall to my hometown in upstate New York. Cool is arbitrary, I guess. Ron Wood said it best when he sang, ‘Wish I knew then, what I know now when I was younger.'”
—Christian Purdy, Director of Publicity, OUP USA
“After a summer of part-time work, babysitting, and everything I could find, I remember taking my earnings and going to buy one of my first pairs of Chuck Taylors. Something about the independence of getting them myself imbued them with extra greatness. They were this really intense Kelly green, and I drew patterns on the heel of the right shoe during study halls. They gave a spring to my step almost every single day of high school (by the end of which, they had promptly fallen apart).”
—Kate Pais, Marketing Assistant (Academic/Trade), OUP USA
“Hmmm… I remember spending most of August 1996 arguing that it was absolutely necessary that my parents buy me the burgundy JanSport backpack with a suede leather bottom and flower stitching on the smaller compartment. I also promised that, yes, if they were to comply I not even ask for a new backpack the next school year. I lied.”
—Leslie Schaffer, Retail/Wholesale Sales, OUP USA
“I remember when I was moving to a new secondary school. My primary school had only had about 80 people in it, so it was really, really small and everyone knew everyone. However, my secondary school had 800 and so I was absolutely terrified by the idea of being surrounded by so many people. I remember my Mum buying me a whole set of uniform which was way too big for me and all starchy and stiff because it was so new. I had this long, blue tartan, pleated skirt. Anyway, on the first day I got to school feeling ridiculous but thinking ‘everyone will look just like me — it’ll be fine.’ It wasn’t. Everyone, and I mean everyone in the entire school had a totally different skirt — theirs were straight, not pleated, and far shorter than mine. (Mine was, inexplicably, halfway down my calves.) Of course, my Mum wouldn’t buy me another for at least a term, so I had to spend the first term of my secondary school life with this tent of a skirt — heavily pleated and below my knees. I remember that whenever it was windy, it used to balloon out — sort of like the Marilyn Monroe thing, but without any charm or grace whatsoever.”
—Jessica Harris, Online Product Marketing Intern, OUP UK
“Back to School for me always meant getting a new pencil case. The rubbery plastic type, with the zip at the top. That smell always takes me straight back to WH Smith in August, a few weeks before the new term. Who was I going to be this year? Open and honest, showing my personalised pencils and zoo animal rubbers through a clear plastic case? A bit dark and mysterious (for a nine-year-old), a creepy crawlies cover hiding the never-used set square within? (I still don’t think I’ve ever used a set square.) I was given a cuddly panda pencil case once. I loved her but she didn’t have the right smell. She had to stay at home.”
—Debbie Sims, Publicity Administrator, OUP UK
“The first day of school! The new colorful pens! The new blank notebooks, blinding white and waiting to be filled with brilliant insights! The smell of the library crammed full of old pages! Comparing schedules with friends and finding out you had classes together! Yes, it was always great to go back to school each year; to do something familiar yet new, and as often happened, come away enlightened.”
—Lana Goldsmith, Publisher Services, OUP USA
“My favorite Back to School memory was back in elementary school, where just before the year started, my school would list the upcoming year’s classroom assignments in the local newspaper. (Side note: I am from a very, very small town.) I remember being so excited and nervous looking over these, as you couldn’t wait to see if you got the teacher you wanted (or the one you really didn’t), or, more importantly, if your best friends were in your class (or if they sadly weren’t).”
—Alyssa Bender, Marketing Associate, OUP USA
“My favorite Back to School memory would have to be buying new school supplies. I would also go with my mom to a local drug store that had two narrow little supply aisles and stock-up on whatever the “in” school supply was at the time: Five Star notebooks, binders with slots for photos, purple glue sticks. But my favorite would have to be the reign of Lisa Frank folders.”
—Penny Freedman, Marketing Coordinator, OUP USA
“My favorite Back to School memory would be receiving our new textbooks and writing books on the first day of term, then taking them home to cover, in anything from wrapping paper to wallpaper!”
—Julie O’Shea, Senior Marketing Executive, OUP UK
Don’t forget to share your favorite Back to School memory using the hashtag #BTSmemory, and we’ll be sharing along with you across our social media. And if you’re looking to stock up, check out these popular Oxford University Press USA Back to School titles, including our celebrated Compact Oxford Dictionaries series. See you in school!
Sonia Tsuruoka is a social media intern at Oxford University Press and a student at Johns Hopkins University. Her writing has appeared in a variety of publications, including Slate Magazine and the JHU News-Letter.