When I first started shopping for basic college gear (was that really four years ago?), I thought I’d be that cool kid who had a new backpack every year and always had the newest stuff. That was my naive vision of college: always shopping, always updated. I think my freshman self may laugh at me now, and I'm OK with that.
I’m walking across the stage to get my diploma on Friday and I’m still carrying the same backpack around that I bought in 2015.
I wasn’t more than a few weeks into my first semester of college when my backpack had already earned a few coffee stains in the bottom of the bag. By the time I finished my associates degree and came to UK for my bachelor’s, the straps had some rips in the seams. It's so stained and tattered now that it's hardly recognizable compared to the boho bag that caught my attention years ago, but that's OK. A new bag wouldn't fall the same way around my shoulders, wouldn't fit as if it understood when I'm exhausted, wouldn't have worn out in a way to contour my back.
My backpack isn’t the prettiest thing I carry around with me, but it tells a story, and isn't that what college is all about? Its wear and tear represents a lot of hard work and many miles walked across two campuses.
Perhaps my favorite feature on my backpack is something I’ve added (a small bead). Like a graft on a tree or plant, it was become an extension of the original bag. And, by default, an extension of me. I like to think it is a quirky nod to the free spirit I aspire to be.
When I took a Native American Literature class at WKCTC, I had a teacher who had considered officially claiming her Cherokee ancestry and joining a tribe. She was a friend of the Ojibwa Warrior, Dennis Banks himself, and much of her class reflected different tribes’ rituals.
She once gave me two small, glass beads, which mean “good will” or “good luck”, according to the Cherokee.
I crocheted a small chain and attached one of the beads to my backpack. I haven’t taken it off since. I’m not superstitious by nature, but I like to think that this bead has, if nothing else, reminded me of a larger social picture in our country, where I came from and has helped me to keep my head high when I felt discouraged. It’s become one of my favorite things about my tattered old bag.
I’ll be moving on into the workforce and my backpack will be retiring (it's high time). So, to it I wish a happy retirement and a sincere thanks for holding my books, random changes of clothes, food and a plethora of random items for me for the last few years. I'm sure if it could talk, I'd be enamored by its tales.
I'm sure it would talk about its boredom when I've fallen asleep in a library and left it to sit for extended periods of time. Or maybe it'd talk about the days I carried it for 13 hours and then basically threw it across a room when I got home. Maybe it'd talk about being a pillow for me many, many times.
Thanks buddy. It’s been a wild, beautiful ride.