A Long, Strange Trip

By Zachary Barry

   I started writing for The Oredigger during my first semester at mines, in the fall of 2018, and I’ve been the Arts and Culture section editor since the fall of 2019. Both of these positions will come to an end when I graduate on December 17th.  It’s crazy for me to look back at all the time that has passed since I started at Mines. The world as I know it seems to have risked coming to an end more than once, and the way that I see that world and my place in it have changed dramatically. With my last issue of The Oredigger, I wanted to write a piece that was reflective of my time here at Mines.

   At first, I wasn’t sure how such a piece would fit into the paper. As I was sitting at my desk and staring at a blank screen trying to figure out what sort of wisdom I could provide for anyone who may read this issue, all that I could think to say was, “What a long strange trip it’s been,” a quote from the song Truckin’ by The Grateful Dead. I’ve always enjoyed music, but since my start at Mines, the long nights of studying with a single playlist on loop seem to have ingrained certain songs in my mind. I then got the idea to describe my experiences at Mines over the last 8 semesters and provide a song that captures a significant mood I had during a given semester. I hoped that by taking this approach, I could share some of my favorite songs with readers, while letting them know that there are others at Mines who, at times, have felt the same way they do. That being said, I don’t expect everyone to feel the same way that I did during a particular semester. Everyone’s experience at Mines is unique so take my ramblings with a grain of salt, and if all else fails, hopefully, you’ll enjoy at least one of the songs mentioned in this article.

Semester One: Bohemian Rhapsody-Queen

   My freshmen semester was one of the times of greatest change in my life. I went from a ‘large fish in a small pond’ in my hometown to a run-of-the-mill student at Mines. I failed tests for the first time since elementary school and knew practically no one. I had to get used to a new town, new people, and a new academic load. I spent a lot of time sad and alone in my room, questioning if I belonged at mines. Ultimately things worked out. I made some friends and found my footing in my coursework. I don’t know if I’d be the person that I am now if I didn’t have to struggle freshmen year, and I’d like to thank those who supported me then.

Semester Two: Hey There Delilah-Plain White T’s

   Second-semester things were better at school. I was taking major-specific courses instead of just common requirements for each major, so I found the courses I was taking to be more enjoyable. What I remember most about this semester was long phone calls to my girlfriend on Friday nights and excitedly checking my mailbox in the Trads, waiting for her letters. For both of us, it was our first meaningful relationship. We learned a lot about ourselves and our relationship during this time, both when things went well and when they didn’t.

Semester Three: Changes-David Bowie

   With my freshmen year completed, I no longer had to live on campus. I decided to move off on my own, plunging headfirst into the adult world. It was hard to balance my school responsibilities with both the newfound freedom and responsibilities of living off campus. Classes were challenging, but fair, and I enjoyed the work that I was doing with the newspaper. All-in-all, I feel that this semester was the closest to the romanticized notions of college portrayed in movies and TV shows.

Semester Four: The End of The World As We Know it-R.E.M

   My fourth semester started well. I was continuing to gain traction in my courses, had managed to make a couple of great friends, and found a few clubs to keep me busy. Things were chugging along great until a certain epidemic hit. I remember, at the beginning of the semester, one of my professors mentioned that they were worried the then localized SARS-CoV-2 virus would prevent them from traveling to Asia. After receiving the email that we would be remote after fall break, I remember sitting in the back of a classroom wherein 30 minutes that same professor would be explaining the changes to the syllabus to accommodate its impact in the US. While I waited for class to begin, this song was blasting in my earbuds.

Semester Five: Welcome to the Machine-Pink Floyd

   This semester was mostly online, although I did manage to have a few key core classes in person. It was the new normal that we were all living in; zoom meetings for both classes and clubs. The thing I remember most was how isolating it was. As an introvert, at first, I didn’t mind not having to leave my apartment every day. By the middle of the semester, I even missed the energy of walking from class to class with other students. This semester taught me about self-care and the real value of the friends I had made at Mines.

Semester Six: Back in Black-AC/DC

   With the very worst of the pandemic seemingly in the rearview mirror, more classes were held in person, and the campus as a whole was more welcoming. I got to study with friends again from time to time, something I found very helpful. I found the semester-long projects that I had in several classes to be a more accurate assessment of what I knew than 2-hour long common exams, which seemed to more reliably assess if a student has test anxiety. Things were settling into a new and less intimidating normal.

Semester Seven: Learning to Fly-The Foo Fighters

   I took summer field session in 2021 and consider it to have been my seventh semester at Mines. As a Chem-E, field session is one of the most stressful times of your undergraduate degree. I’ve heard from several alumni field session is more difficult than the average day in the chemical engineering industry. For me and everyone that I knew, field session was a trial by fire. The assigned labs covered nearly everything that we had learned in our major-specific courses and some things that were brand new. I got, on average, about half as much sleep during a week of field session as I got during a week of the prior semester.

Semester Eight: Trucin’-The Grateful Dead

   This brings us to the present. As I reflect on all that I’ve learned at Mines in my senior design class and all that has changed in my life since I started at Mines in this article, I’m left speechless. I might have studied for some tests a little bit more and a little bit less for others, and I would have been a little more outgoing at times, but in general, I have nothing to complain about. I’m nervous about what the future has in store for me, but I’m also excited to find out.

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