It happened to me: I got swept up by a campus tour and had to start college over

Combat Zone

By Bean McQueen

I’ve always prided myself on being an adaptable team player who knows how to go with the flow: I look out for the group, I don’t step on anyone’s toes, and I’m always up for anything. Little did I know that this quality would end up costing me three years of my life and over $150,000 in wasted tuition fees when I accidentally joined a tour of prospective students and had to start college over.

It started as an ordinary day in spring of my junior year. It was a busy day, and when I wasn’t hustling, I was bustling. I bustled so hard between classes that I ran right into a tour of high-school students visiting campus. They were walking the same way I was, so rather than making a scene by slightly increasing or decreasing my pace, I decided to just walk amongst them for a spell. A wide-eyed mom on my right quietly asked me how I was enjoying my visit, and not wanting to be rude, I replied, “It’s cool — can’t wait to eat in the dining hall.” I should have bolted across the lawn right then and there, but I was in too deep, and was too polite to to stop playing my part.

Just as we were nearing the point at which I planned to break off from the group, our tour guide asked, “So, what’s everyone thinking of studying?” and I accidentally said, “Plants” really loudly. It got a big laugh from the dads, and at this point there was no leaving the group, so I resolved to miss my 2 p.m. class in order to see this charade through.

I began enjoying the fantasy. I started chatting with one of the dads, Doug — really cool guy — about how it rains a lot in Tacoma, and how hilarious that would be for me because I was visiting from the Mojave Desert. I started to forget where I ended and the guise began … who had I been before?

Suddenly, someone from my past appeared on the pathway, giving me a curious look. “Craig, why are you taking a tour?” he asked. I looked straight into his eyes and knew Craig was gone.

“I don’t know you. I’m not Craig, and I’ve never met a Craig in my life,” I replied. He shrugged and walked away, and I knew a part of myself was walking away with him. I turned to Doug and raised my eyebrows. “Weird — hope that guy graduates before I start here. My name is Otis, by the way, not Craig. Otis Buttonstronk.”

When the tour ended, I knew I had burned too many bridges, and my life here as Craig Cudson had come to an end. Not knowing what to do but not wanting to get caught in a lie, I lived in the Mojave Desert for five months, until returning to campus for first-year orientation. Scarred, weathered and silent from my time alone in the desert, I finally felt like I fit in on this campus.

My name is Otis Buttonstronk, I use he/him pronouns, I’m a first-year, undeclared (but leaning toward bio — plants!), and a fun fact about me is that I’m a 48-year-old man who keeps slipping into tour groups and college is the nightmare from which I’ll never wake up.

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