The time has come.
Walls, shelves and beds are being stripped of their identifying marks. The posters, knickknacks, trophies, framed pictures and bed spreads -- the very things that make a room a home -- have been removed, evaluated for their sentimental or usable value and packed.
Bedrooms that housed elementary school sleepovers and were staging areas for a first prom will be turned into guest rooms, offices or sewing rooms. All because their former occupants are answering the call of higher education, many to colleges and universities outside Alaska.
Kenai Peninsula families are once again packing up their college-age students and sending them off to test the waters of advanced learning.
MK Knudsen, right, gives Tessa Rhyner, her daughter Kristi and Lacey Wisniewski a last-minute suggestion for driving the Alaska Highway as Kristi's sister Karli watches.
Photo by M. SCOTT MOON
For some parents the event is routine. Older children broke them into the teary good-byes and the empty bedrooms. For others, though, this is the first time they will orchestrate the going-away-to-college process.
Big decisions need to be made. Will they drive or fly? Is a refrigerator really a necessity? How particular are airlines about their 70-pound luggage maximum? What about their two-bag limit?
Perhaps it is for this reason that many parents opt to accompany their children to their chosen location.
"I wanted my mom to come with me, and she's a teacher so that means she pretty much just has a weekend," said Karli Knudsen of her decision to fly instead of drive to Northeastern Junior College in Sterling, Colo., Aug. 23.
"At first she wasn't ... but I talked her into it."
Knudsen is the third of three daughters to leave Alaska for college. This year, her older sister Kristi decided to drive to Black Hills State University in Spearfish, S.D., along with high school pals Tessa Rhyner and Lacey Wisniewski, who will both be attending Carroll College in Waukesha, Wis.
Kristi Knudsen gives her mother MK a parting hug at right as Tessa Rhyner and Lacey Wisniewski wait to start their road trip back to college in the Lower 48. "Hey, call once in a while," MK Knudsen said. "Like every night." Kristi's sister Karli, at far left, will fly south to college later this month.
Photo by M. SCOTT MOON
Like the younger Knudsen, time also the was factor that determined whether Katherine Amen would be driving or flying to Montana State in Bozeman.
"My dad really wants to take me down and driving just wasn't really an option," she said, explaining that her father has to take time off work to take his daughter to school.
Because she is flying, Amen plans to purchase a lot of the dorm room must-haves once she arrives in Montana. Also, since her roommate is from Bozeman, she may be better prepared to provide larger appliances.
However, Amen has yet to make any contact with the person she will be sharing a room with for the next nine months.
"I really need to be more informed," she said. "I probably will later, but right now I just don't care."
Kirsten Ehrhardt, of Kenai, also is clinging to her last few weeks of summer by not thinking too much about what she will be packing with her to University of Colorado in Boulder.
"I was planning on just going, not bringing a lot with me and buying things once I got down there," said Ehrhardt, who also said she plans on reevaluating her situation and bringing more things with her after Christmas break.
Both Amen and Ehrhardt, 2002 Kenai Central High School graduates, will arrive on campus before upper class students for an orientation period many colleges have to help first-year students adjust. It's a time some seasoned veterans of the college game say is an important period.
"Orientation is a time to sit up till 4 a.m. talking to the guy across the hall," said Ehrhardt's older sister, Britt, who, after spending a year traveling in Europe and studying in Kenya, will be returning to her third year at Stanford University in California.
"The scheduled stuff isn't as important as just getting out and meeting people. It's a time when everyone's vulnerable," said Britt's boyfriend, Keenan Casteel, who will be a senior at Gonzaga University in Washington state this fall.
He recommends that freshmen make contact with their roommates before they end up with two stereos and two microwaves and no television.
"The idea is that you are going to be living with this person for a year. You would want to live with a friend, right? Don't shoot yourself in the foot and start off on the wrong foot," he said.
"Plus you get bonus points if you're the one who calls first," Britt said, even though Stanford doesn't notify first-year students of their roommates until they arrive on campus for orientation.
One soon-to-be freshman who did decide to contact his roommate ahead of time was another Kenai Central High School graduate, J.D. Pault, who will be leaving for Colorado State University in Fort Collins Aug. 17.
"It definitely doesn't feel like a normal school start," he said. "Normally I'm dreading it."
Pault, his sister Stacey, who attends school at University of Northern Colorado in Greeley, and their father will be flying to Colorado Aug. 17. Driving to CSU is doable though. Soon-to-be senior Elizabeth Nyce has done it twice, the first time for her freshman year.
"I think we just always planned to drive, for the family thing. My parents wanted to go with me, and it seemed like an easy way to get stuff down there," said Nyce, whose brother Eric will start classes this fall at Western Washington University.
Because she was driving, Nyce ended up making most of her purchases on the peninsula.
"I bought most of my things here instead of searching for things down there," she said. "When I finally packed the Suburban, I was surprised how full it was."
Once she arrived in Colorado, unpacking the car was slightly more of an endeavor than she had bargained for.
"I was glad to have all of the stuff, but it was a job moving it into my new place. It was actually a huge pain. Everybody was rushing to use the elevator and the few dollies they had there. But, fortunately, I had my dad and a dolly.
"Although it's a really big hassle moving in, it was nice having everything there. I pretty much feel like I've used quite a bit of my stuff," she said. "So basically, two hours of torture was worth it in the long run."
A lot of students won't have the same unpacking trauma that Nyce did because the trend, at least for first-year students, seems to be flying rather than driving. What students gain in traveling time saved, however, they lose in luggage capacity.
For some, that could be a good thing.
While flying restrictions have tightened since Sept. 11, crossing borders in the air isn't as much of an issue as it is via the Alaska Highway.
"With a heightened security, it does take a little longer to get through the border," said U.S. Immigration Public Information Officer Garrison Courtney.
"(Border patrol officers) understand that at this time of the year they get a lot of kids going to school," Courtney said. "The typical stuff that people would take to college is not going to raise any flags. The more (stuff) they have, the more likely that we're going to pull them over and check for contraband. It's not guaranteed that they're gonna be stopped, but you can assume that it's gonna take longer. I'd give yourself an extra hour to two hours, just in case."
Courtney also recommends bringing several forms of identification.
"If you can make us feel that you are supposed to be here, there won't be any trouble," he said. "They need to establish that they're U.S. citizens. Maybe if they have a letter stating what school they're going to, like an acceptance letter."
Not unlike border patrol officials, FedEx and other delivery services are seeing heightened activity at this time of year -- especially from students who didn't figure out how to get a computer in their luggage.
"In the next two weeks it'll probably start to get heavy," said FedEx employee, Keith Webster.
"With 9/11 and on airlines, they can only take so much," he said, adding that a lot of students end up mailing items such as their computers.
Clarion reporter Marcus K. Garner contributed to this story.
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