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Back to School: Everything’s Changed Except the Trapper Keeper


A blogumn by Emily Farrell

A few days before I started grad school, a friend at work gave me a present—a Trapper Keeper folder. And not just any Trapper Keeper, but a purple one (my favorite color). I’ve been slowly filling it with handouts and Web printouts from the three classes I’m taking this semester. But other than this binder and a spiral notebook for taking notes, I haven’t taken part in America’s traditional back-to-school shopping orgy.

I started thinking about being a kid and what it used to mean to go back to school—backpacks, pencils, lunchboxes, new clothes, book covers, and all the fun, brightly colored, themed products you could buy every year. That gave way to graphing calculators and 40-pound book bags in high school. In college it meant a plane ticket across the country, numerous trips to bring boxes out of storage in the basement, and the fun of decorating a new dorm room. I’ve always enjoyed those back-to-school rituals and the sense of anticipation that struck every August.

Starting grad school this year, however, didn’t seem to have any milestones that really screamed “back-to-school.” In high school we would be issued copies of the standard text books, which we then lugged back and forth to school every day. In college I loved the thrill of reading the course catalog, picking the perfect classes, and then fighting crowds at the bookstore to get all my texts.

This year, my course selection was limited not only by what was offered for my specific graduate degree but also the core classes I wanted to take first. I created an online schedule and registered for classes with a click of the mouse. With a few more clicks I found the required books and ordered them online (mainly through Amazon) and had them delivered to my home. I still haven’t set foot inside my campus bookstore.

Growing up I always had a true sense of “beginning” school every year—part ritual, part conspicuous consumption. Now I’m six weeks into the school year and am still almost stunned (glad, but stunned) that this is my life. At least I have a purple Trapper Keeper to keep me on track.

Photo Credit: Katie Weilbacher