"When you're growing up, Septembers have a special feeling. Another carefree summer is all too quickly ended, and a new school year is about to begin. There was an extra excitement for me in the September of 1934. My years at Miss Hunter's school on Waltons Mountain were over, and I was ready to take those first faltering steps into the strange world outside. How vividly I recall the edgy excitement, the awful exilaration of preparing for my first day at Boatwright University. It was a day which showed me how little I knew about some things, and how well my parents had prepared me for others".
Early in the morning Olivia knocks on John-Boy’s door to find him already dressed. John-Boy is anxious because today is his first day of college, and worried whether he will do okay. Both are scared, with John-Boy saying he has alligators in his stomach rather than butterflies. Outside, John checks on the gas level of John-Boy’s car, making sure there is enough gasoline. The children crowd around the bathroom mirror as they prepare for their first day of school. John-Boy tells Jason that he will not be around to control them, and that he’s in charge now. Jason tells the kids to get out of the bathroom, and John-Boy approves of his action. Grandma serves coffee as the family sits down for breakfast. Elizabeth isn’t hungry, not eager for school. Grandpa sings, “School days, school days, dear old golden rule days. Readin' and writin' and 'rithmatic, Taught to the tune of a hickory stick. You were my queen in calico, I was your bashful, barefoot beau.” Grandma responds, “You were barefoot but you were as bashful as a buzzsaw!” Mary Ellen says that school is a bore--just another year with old subjects, same old 1492 and 1861, and the same old squeaky pencil sharpener--while John-Boy goes off to an exciting place. John-Boy responds that he is leaving a place where he knows everyone, to a place where he knows no one. Jason takes charge of the children, telling them to gather up their things so not to be late. John wants to know what happened in 1861.
The family gathers at John-Boy’s car, waiting to send him off on the most important day of his life. Grandma gives John-Boy two dollars, fifty cents for emergencies. Grandpa doesn’t believe his suit is going off to college, rather than up to heaven. As John-Boy drives off, Olivia is visibly apprehensive at her first child leaving for college. John finds Olivia in John-Boy’s room, and she hugs him, emotional with John-Boy leaving home (if just for a day). As John drives through a town he stops to pick up Polly Thompson who missed her ride to the Boatwright University campus at Westin, Virginia. She talks “a mile a minute” about turning over a new leaf by being self-sufficient, and being equal to anything. As they enter the campus a sign overhead states “Welcome Freshman”. John-Boy parks his car in a parking space on the street. As they walk toward campus a man yells to him from his car. Polly thinks he is just being friendly, but John-Boy isn’t quite so sure, but decides to walk on.
As they go their separate ways, John-Boy meets another freshman, one that is not advertising that fact. His name is Mike West, and suggest to John-Boy not to look too eager, especially by wearing a suit. As they walk a group of sophomores motion them over. They quickly tell John-boy that being a freshman is “lower than low”, that he needs a freshman beanie, and must address upperclassmen as “sirs”. One sophomore takes the handkerchief that Erin gave to John-Boy, in order to wipe his shoes. John-Boy finally is allowed to leave after apologizing for being a freshman. Polly interrupts John-Boy, unable to cope with all her problems. Suddenly Polly realizes that her book bag is gone. John-Boy rushes off to retrieve it. But, he runs into a professor (the same one that yelled at him from his car). John-Boy attempts to pick up all the papers that went flying, but the professor says, “In alphabetical order?”
Miss Hunter calls the class to order, as Mary Ellen changes seats (tired of her same old desk). (She now sits behind Jason and next to Erin.) Ready for a Civics lesson (“the mechanics of our governments”) Miss Hunter asks the class what are the three branches of the government? But, when no one knows Jason holds up his hand. He doesn’t know the answer and isn’t sure why he raised his hand. Erin wonders what is wrong with Jason, and Mary Ellen agrees he is acting “weird”. John-Boy finds Polly’s book bag and Mike realizes the situation wasn’t as bad as it appeared. Just then Randolph, the Student Chairman of Student Orientation, approaches the threesome. He asks John-Boy to escort the freshman class mascot (a goat he is leading) to the freshman orientation ceremony, but first to go to room 11 of the Administration Building to pick up the freshman class sponsor. John-Boy agrees, but Mike warns him not to go. Polly things Mike is jealous, but Mike can’t believe they are so gullible. John-Boy walks the goat to his destination, followed by curious students. At the door, John-Boy learns the supposed sponsor is “W.K. Ghote PhD, English Department Chairman”. The professor (the same man John-Boy has run into on two different occasions so far) exits his office to find John-Boy and the goat. John-Boy explains he was asked to come here. Professor Ghote says that he has been nicknamed “Billy Goat” but in this case he refers John-Boy as “the goat”. John-Boy retreats.
Olivia can’t keep her mind on her household duties, as she thinks about John-Boy. On the other hand, Grandma is busy finishing up another task. Grandma suggests singing a song that she sang whenever she was worried about her children: “Work when the night is coming. Work through the morning hours. Work while the dew is sparkling….” But, Olivia feels foolish, and Grandma finishes the ironing. Olivia decides to make applesauce cake, because, “ it’s John-Boy’s favorite”. John-boy thanks Miss Monsell for helping him with getting admitted to Boatwright. But, when she looks through his admissions packet she cannot find his certificate of admissions, and can’t register him without it. John-Boy rushes out after she tells him to must register by 4 pm to prevent a five-dollar late penalty.
The adults gather around the table for the noon meal and speak about John-Boy, being a Walton, and education and its strange notions. When John-Boy goes to where his car is parked, it is missing. Professor Ghote walks by and informs John-Boy that he parked in faulty parking. John-Boy was unaware of this fact, because the signs were covered with banners. Professor Ghote tells John-Boy that the car is undoubtedly at the garage behind the Admissions office. John-Boy rushes there to find a mechanic who can’t let the car go because his boss would fire him and he needs the job to stay in school. John-Boy decides on another solution, and rushes out. Polly, who is having more problems, interrupts him. This time John-Boy says he doesn’t have time to help, because he is sinking, too. She walks away and yells out “Creep”. John-Boy makes a call (the receptionist asks for fifteen cents) to Ike, asking him to tell his parents to find his admissions certificate, and to drive it to him this afternoon. Ike hops on his bike, and peddles to the Walton house. At school, Miss Hunter introduces new student Andrew Clark from Tennessee. Jason welcomes the new student for all the students. Mary Ellen and Erin wonder what he is doing.
At about 3:30 pm the same rowdy sophomores are talking in the hallway while Mike and John-Boy talk about the peculiar way that John-Boy says such things as “I reckon I’ve seen better days on the Mountain.” Mike tries to tell John-Boy how he analyzes people to get what he wants. John-Boy isn’t sure he can, or wants, to do such things. Back home John and Ike wait for Olivia to find John-Boy’s papers. Once found, John drives off to deliver them to his son. John-Boy walks outside to wait for his father. The same sophomores are asking him a lot of questions when the Walton truck drives up. The sophomores think it’s an old antique truck—right out of a junkyard. John-Boy announces, “It’s my father!” After giving John-Boy the papers he needs John states, “Education is mostly finding out how little we know” John-Boy confesses he thought he was going to be a new man by going off to college, but has learned better. As John drives off he says to his eldest son, “You’ll be all right!”
Jason talks with the new student, and then asks Ben to do the same. But, Ben refuses. Jason then tells Erin and Mary Ellen to collect the other children so they can begin walking home. Mary Ellen tells Jason that he is the stranger here, not Andrew Clark. Jason ponders what is wrong. Miss Hunter sits beside Jason. She remembers the long shadow that her older sister cast when she tried to be just like her. Miss Hunter implies that it was as foolish for her to do that, as it would be for Jason to be just like John-Boy. If he tried to be like John-Boy, then we would lose Jason, and he is a very special person.
John-Boy registers with Miss Monsell with ten minutes to spare. In the hallway, John-Boy apologizes to Polly for not being able to help her earlier. Polly confesses that she is just a scared, little kid. John-Boy tells her that the freshman students are scared, but some hide it better than others. He offers to help with her schedule. Polly warns John-Boy that he may be stuck with her for four years. They walk off, forgetting her book bag, but quickly retrieve it. As Polly, John-Boy, and Mike begin to cross a bridge over a pond the same troublesome sophomores force them to wait while they cross first. Once clear the sophomores say they can’t cross because they are freshman. They get in a scuffle, with Professor Ghote breaking up the fight. Professor Ghote asks John-Boy, “Don’t you think you’ve caused enough damage for your first day?” Back home John-Boy tells the family all of his experience at his first day of college. The kids think it sounds exciting, and Grandpa thinks the sophomores were “hooligans”. Jason tells John-Boy that Miss Hunter said to give him her best. John-Boy says that she crossed his mind many times during the day. Mary Ellen is frustrated when the children tell that she likes the new boy. John-Boy just says, “What a family!”
“There have been many other first days in my life since that long ago September, but I've been sustained through them all by two certainties - I am who I am, with whatever shortcomings, and family ties may lengthen to accomodate distance, but they are never broken.”
John-Boy: Yes, Elizabeth.
Elizabeth: Did they really give you a big present?
John-Boy: They did.
Elizabeth: Was he nice?
John-Boy: Well he was very busy, he didn't pay too much attention to me.
Elizabeth: That's the way most big brothers are.
John-Boy: Well I'll try to remember that.
Elizabeth: But they're still nice to have.
John-Boy: Goodnight, Elizabeth.
Elizabeth: Goodnight, John-Boy.
It is September 1934.
The lyrics to “School Days” sung by Grandpa can be found at http://members.spree.com/qwho/uploads/backtoschool5.html.
The license plates on John-Boy’s car is “63 982 Virginia”.
After World War 2, Paxton (Dennis Redfield) who'd been so nasty to John-Boy, becomes a good friend (see The Obstacle (Season 7 episode 14).
Ike Godsey (Joe Conley), Miss Hunter (Mariclare Costello), Polly Thompson (Devon Ericson), Michael (Mike) West (Ted Eicles), Paxon (Dennis Redfield), Hobgood (David Ankrum), Crouch (Jack McCulloch), Professor Ghote (Laurence Dobkin), Miss Monsell (Nadyne Turney), Randolph (Joel Kimmel), Shanks (Michael Kearn), Davis (Johnnie Collins III), Eubank (Damon Douglas), Eileen (Kim O’Brien), Andrew Clark (Tom McAllister).