Last Saturday, a head-banging tune on the car radio took me way back to my graduate school days. It’s interesting how music, even stuff I don’t particularly like, evokes old memories and feelings. The song was Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, played in honor of the twentieth anniversary of its release on September 16, 1991. Sometimes I need an external cue, like the radio announcer’s comments that an iconic song (and album) was twenty years old, to remind me of the passage of time. Was that really twenty years ago? I suddenly realized that Nirvana and I share an anniversary.
I started my PhD program in Seattle twenty years ago, right about the time the song came out. Although I wasn’t a Nirvana fan or into the grunge scene, the music was so ubiquitous that upon hearing the song on the radio, I couldn’t help but think about my first month in Seattle and all the excitement and nervousness associated with beginning a new program.
The pounding anthem on the radio last weekend also reminded me of another twenty-year anniversary I’d nearly forgotten! I met my husband almost twenty years to the day of the song’s release. It’s not a romantic song, nor is it in any way “our” song. However, right around the middle of September, 1991, there was a zoology department mixer for “old” grad students to meet the “new” students. While most of the senior grad students asked me where I was from or what I wanted to study, my future husband came bounding over to ask, with a devious grin, “So, when are you going to take your orals?” We newbies were already dreading these comprehensive oral exams for admission to doctoral candidacy. Though I wouldn’t be expected to take the exam for another year or two, I felt a twinge of panic at this ice-breaker question. He got my attention, though. After a month of back and forth with two friends as intermediaries (e.g., he told a friend who told a friend, who told me, that he thought I was “cute”), we worked up the courage for a first date. Over dinner at a Thai restaurant we talked about our parents and sisters, among other things, and we learned about each other that family is very important. We were married a little over a year later.
Again, the passage of time is difficult to track. It seems like we’ve always been part of each other’s lives. Twenty years have flown by, yet it seems like forever. A lifetime for many of the undergraduates I see around campus these days. We have a nephew who’s about as old as our relationship, living proof that time has ticked by. Our daughter, who’s used to seeing her nearly grown-up cousin, saw pictures of him as a baby in diapers at our wedding. She giggled and exclaimed “AWK-ward!”
The last twenty years have been pretty good to us. As for me, I’m happy with where I’ve come thus far and look forward to the years to come. A few gray hairs later, I’m reliving a bit of the excitement and uncertainty I felt when I started graduate school as I transition back to teaching and research after several years home with my kids. And although I try to get my kids to listen to the music from my youth, even a ground-breaking Nirvana grunge anthem is not cool enough for them. Twenty years from now I guess Lady Gaga or Justin Bieber will take them back in time (Oh, the horror!)