The First Day Back | Confessions of a Community College Dean

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Monday was the first official day back on campus for most staff. Faculty return in a couple of weeks.

We’re requiring folks to be on campus for at least 60 percent of the workweek, so not everybody was there. But far more people were there than I’ve seen on the days I’ve been in lately.

I already had my first awkward moment, just a few hours into the new reality.

We have an indoor mask mandate, so everybody is masked up in the hallways. Sometimes when walking outside, people will leave their masks on for a bit.

You can see where I’m going with this.

I had left my lunch at home — did I mention it was the first day back? — so I ran out to a local place at the lunch hour to grab a sandwich. I got one and returned to campus. As I walked towards an entrance, I saw someone I knew coming toward me on her way to the parking lot. The following exchange ensued:

Her: Hi, Matt!

Me: Hi, [wrongname]!

It took me a full second after passing to realize that I had mistaken her for someone else. When you can only see someone’s face from the nose up, and you’re off guard and out of practice, it can happen.

I was mortified.

When I got to my office, I quickly fired off an apologetic email. She was gracious, claiming not to have noticed. I appreciated the kindness.

When last the campus was fully staffed, we weren’t wearing masks yet. But it has been almost a year and a half, and everybody will be masked. I foresee more awkward moments coming.

So, my plea to colleagues and wise and worldly readers everywhere: let’s remember to cut each other some slack, especially in those first few weeks. A lot of people will be shaking off a lot of rust at the same time. And the masks, welcome as they are, make instant recognition just harder enough to make those split-second greetings a bit risky.

Now if I can just remember to bring lunch …

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