McHenry County Opinion

Oliver: New school year, like a brand-new notebook, holds endless possibilities

If one needs a metaphor for a new school year, a brand-new, blank spiral notebook will do the job nicely. It’s a blank slate, ready to be filled with all sorts of things, from essays to equations.

Blank notebooks still give me a little thrill, since to me they represent endless possibilities. Who knows what I’ll fill a notebook with these days?

Joan Oliver

In school, there was a notebook for each subject matter, a hint of the organizational systems that would fill my adult life. Back then, though, those notebooks kept everything in order until I could figure out for myself how useful organization could be. They also probably saved my poor mother and teachers time trying to help me figure out where things were.

Of course, my mother was probably even more excited for the new school year than I was, if that was possible. I appreciate that more now as an adult. Still, Mom was excited to see us learning new things. Perhaps that’s because she’d get a break from all the questions my brother and I would ask her.

Mom always viewed our education as something in which she had a vital role to play. She did her best to help us when we ran into problems. She would try to make sure we had what we needed to learn. And she wanted to help our teachers help us.

Mom was diligent in going to parent-teacher conferences, and she insisted on us being responsible about permission slips and the like. She even took every opportunity she could to volunteer whenever parents were asked to do so.

Her attitude about our schooling had an influence on how my brother and I viewed it. My mother didn’t finish high school, and it would be years before she got her GED. She hadn’t wanted to drop out and go to work, but that choice wasn’t hers to make. Perhaps that’s why she was so determined to make sure we took our education seriously.

Mom always made sure that we were all set to go with our fresh notebooks, even if they weren’t the trendiest ones or the coolest ones or the ones everyone else had. Still, we had what we needed to start the school year off right.

Those first few days of a new school year were precious, full of anticipation and a bit of anxiety. What would the new teacher be like? Who would be in my class? What if I couldn’t find all my classes? What if I forgot the combination of my locker?

After a while, all those questions would be answered, the school year settling into a rhythm that would take me until the following spring.

That blank notebook would begin to be filled, the edges becoming more frayed as the months passed.

Sometimes that notebook would get covered in stickers. Other times, doodles would wind their way across the front. Each item aimed to be a declaration of individuality, as if anyone else could possibly have a notebook like mine.

Of course, what was on the outside wasn’t nearly as important as what was on the inside. The outside never helped much when it came to test time, when how much I learned was being evaluated.

Had I kept those notebooks, no doubt they would have served as a record of how much I learned in all those years of schooling.

My hope is that as our kids return to classes this fall that they, too, learn the value of a brand-new spiral notebook and appreciate the endless possibilities it – and they – have within them.

* * *

But wait, there’s more: Column reader Robert Kosin has an additional suggestion to ones I offered last week for putting together a “go bag” in the event of an emergency.

Kosin agrees that the information at is helpful but suggests also having a flash drive.

“This digital hardware, the size of add-on to a keychain, can travel with all those records necessary to aid, assist and comfort when … disaster strikes,” Kosin wrote. “This includes photos of the most prized possessions, copies of records with details that challenge even the best memory.”

He adds that medical records and other important information could be stored without requiring electricity.

I’d say that’s something worth considering in our emergency preparation.

Joan Oliver is the former Northwest Herald assistant news editor. She has been associated with the Northwest Herald since 1990. She can be reached at

Joan Oliver

Joan Oliver

A 30-year newspaper veteran who has been a copy editor, front-page editor, presentation editor, assistant news editor and publication editor, as well as a columnist and host of an online newspaper newscast.