“First Day of School” is an animated version of the story written by Joe Shaffer describing the dreadful anxieties that come with his experience of the first day of every school year. Joe takes us on an emotional roller coaster through the halls of West High School to find out that this year might not be so bad after all.
The first day of school. Lockers will slam and bells will ring. Pencils will be sharpened, and chairs will creak. You will see more people in one place than you have in months. If you’re like me, you’ll be nervous.
I’ll be a junior at West High in Madison this year. I’ve never been a very confident person, and the first day of school terrifies me. It’s not just the return of homework and tests. The first day of school means relating to all your classmates.
When you pass the ten or so people you actually know, you say “Hi.” For the other 2,990, you stare straight ahead. You endure the feeling that for the past three months, everyone was having more fun than you. Meanwhile, you watched all nine seasons of Everybody Loves Raymond.
You shake it off and go to your first class. Now comes the worst part of all. The thing you’ve been dreading all summer: Name Games. The rules may vary, but the concept remains the same. “Tell us about yourself. Let us get to know you. Expose yourself to judgment from your peers.” The risk of humiliation is tremendous.
“Okay, class,” the teacher says. “Can you name three facts about yourself?” They’re not just asking for three facts. They’re asking you to sum yourself up. Your heart is palpitating. You’re sweating profusely. Why did you wear boots on the first day? It’s still summer, but you just had to have that extra inch of height. You cleared six feet, but good God, at what cost?
Now there’s just one more kid away from your turn. The guy in the polo shirt is talking about how his uncle owns a farm. You’re jealous. That’s really not such a bad fact. Can you top it? Humor might be your best option, but then again, a joke is risky. What if no one laughs?
Now the kid in the polo shirt has only one more fact to go. Turns out he’s passionate about dirt bikes. Why aren’t you passionate about anything? He works in a joke, and it gets a chuckle. At this point, you would give your soul for a chuckle. Finally, it’s your turn. There’s a pause. Everyone’s looking at you. The kid in the polo shirt seems so happy he survived.
And then, a gift from the gods. The sweetest sound known to man. The clear, bright ring of the bell. Class is over. You pack up and meet your friends for lunch. You marvel at your good luck. Maybe this year won’t be so bad after all.
(This story originally aired on Wisconsin Public Radio on September 6, 2013.)