Centennial (Poem)

by David Starkey, Santa Barbara Poet Laureate, SBCC English Professor
As it was read, by the author at the Centennial Kick-off, August 20, 2009

I, too, have had my doubts,
as when the student not turning in
her essay, again, looks at me blankly,
uncertain why I place such value
on punctuality. There's more to life
than school, and anyway her phone
is buzzing in her purse. All she wants
is to answer. She's too tired to wonder
about her professors, our passions
and persuasions and peccadilloes.

Certain seasons-this one comes
to mind-breed skepticism.
Conversations halt, mid-sentence.
The part-time counselor gapes
at the line of students waiting
anxiously to see her, a line
that stretches around the corner
and out the door. The administrator
unfurls the latest spreadsheets,
thinking, Oh, no, it can't be done.

And yet, finally, it must be done,
as it has for one hundred years,
since before the earthquake
and the blowout at Platform A,
before the two World Wars
and the wars in Korea, Vietnam
and Iraq, wars that have taken
some of our best students, but sent us others-
battered but earnest, willing to fight
to be heard in a world that would prefer
nothing more than their silence.

And so we celebrate this anniversary
like a long-married couple: aware
of our foibles, but choosing to dwell
instead on pleasant memories: the fifth
year student, transferring at last, flinging
his hat into the air at graduation;
the single mother stepping off
the bus with her backpack
and her child; the men and women
milling outside their night classes
during break-the smell of coffee
and the last basket of chicken fingers.
Then, drifting in from the darkness,
smoke from those delicious,
because illicit, surreptitious cigarettes.

Some mornings the fog rolls in
and you can hear the waves
without seeing them. Yet the ocean,
we know, is always there,
and it's this faith that the fog
will lift that keeps us walking
to our classes, marking papers,
standing in front of a roomful
of strangers hoping that in fifteen
weeks they, and we-all of us-
will become slightly less strange.

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