Every child's first day of school will be unique.
There will be as many back-to-school experiences as there are children in Utah schools. They'll play out this week and next as classes resume at schools throughout the state.
But a few situations are universal. Many first-graders will feel the thrill (or boredom) of sitting in class all day long and eating lunch at school for the first time. Teenagers will choose their outfits with the type of care most adults reserve for job interviews. And high school seniors will, at long last, ascend to the top rung of high school society.
To capture some of these moments, the Tribune visited three students in three schools in the Alpine District on Tuesday, the first day of school there.
Only one thing stood between first-grader Seth Haskett and the Highland Elementary School playground: a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
Like all the other first-graders eating lunch at school for the first time ever Tuesday he followed instructions from the towering sixth-graders assigned to help him. They led the small, brown-haired boy to the cafeteria, a room filled with the squeaks and shrieks of hundreds of bouncy kids. They guided him to a long table with his friends. They told Seth he'd eat his lunch first and then go to recess.
Clutching a brown paper bag with his name, Seth dutifully sat, announcing the contents of his bag to friends as he pulled his lunch onto the table.
"Carrots," he told fellow first-grader Bryson Bromley. "Soy nuts," he declared, a blue note tumbling out of the package.
"I love you! Have fun! [Heart] mom," the note read. He glanced at it briefly, not reading it.
"Wafers!" he said, pulling a bag of vanilla wafer cookies from his sack victoriously.
For a few minutes Seth munched on the bounty, briefly jolting from his seat to run up to his older brother, an experienced sixth-grader. A few minutes after that, teacher's aide Kim Walus cut through the jumpy crowd to tell Seth and his friends they were at the wrong table. She gently herded them to the correct one a few feet away.
The first day is always a bit chaotic, she said, but she knows it just takes practice.
"It will work," Walus said, laughing. "It will fall into place."
Finally in the right seat, Seth finished his baby carrots, blue Gatorade, string cheese, soy nuts, and, of course, his wafer cookies.
Only his peanut butter and jelly sandwich remained, and he wasn't about to skip recess to finish it. Grabbing his bag, he raced with Bryson to the playground, stopping when he arrived near the swings. He looked around baffled, not sure what to do with his still-uneaten sandwich. An adult pointed back toward the door. Confused, he walked back into the cafeteria toward the garbage.
But he hesitated it seemed like a waste.
Seth's sixth-grade guides came to the rescue. They directed him, at last, to the blue laundry bin with his teacher's name on it at the far end of the cafeteria. He tossed the crumpled, brown bag, still holding his sandwich, into the basket and was finally free.
Before parents roused sleepy adolescents from their beds, before students slung backpacks over their shoulders and before yellow buses began rolling Tuesday, teenager Sadie Roberts played out a familiar scene.
She agonized over what to wear to the first day of school.
"For my first outfit, it was really hard to choose," said Sadie, who began the eighth grade at Pleasant Grove Junior High on Tuesday.
First came the shopping. "A lot of shopping," the 13-year-old said. Three trips, with her teenage brother dragged along.
Then came selection night. Sadie and her mother spent about an hour Monday going through the new clothes. Sadie reflected on the combinations and asked for her mother's input. She modeled about a dozen outfits before settling on The One.
She wanted to be an individual, while still dressing simply. She wanted to be different but not extreme the perpetual internal battle of junior high.
On Tuesday, she walked the hallways of her school clad in her choice: black skinny jeans, new gray suede shoes and a crocheted-looking, loose beige sweater over a black camisole.
"I like being comfortable and it just seems different than what most girls would wear," Sadie said. "Most of them are really dressy and I like dressing up, but I'm definitely not like a girly girl but I am."
"It's kind of confusing," she added.
It's a word that many adults would use to describe their junior high years in general.
It's a time of transition, not that Sadie minds. After all, it's better than elementary school, she said.
"I like it," Sadie said. "It's a lot different and you kind of have to get used to the people that are around you and having people that are younger than you and older than you."
"You meet a lot of new people, and it's really fun," she said.
She can only imagine how exciting high school will be.
When he was in junior high school, Brenden Garrett never imagined he'd be a leader.
Brenden was one of the quietest kids in school. He didn't talk unless someone spoke to him first. Sometime around his freshman year of high school, Brenden decided to make a change.
"I realized being shy just isn't fun," Brenden said. "I would make myself go out of my way to be kind to others. I kind of forced myself out of shyness."
On Wednesday, the first day of school at Westlake High in Saratoga Springs, those years of hard work came to fruition. The former shy-guy stood atop the auditorium stage in front of hundreds of his peers, and introduced himself as student body president. Clad in a long, baby blue letterman's sweater, the senior then led the back-to-school assembly.
He and his senior classmates had finally arrived. They were atop the high school food chain.
"It's very weird to be the oldest class because you look around and pretty much everyone is younger than you," said the 17-year-old.
As student body president, Brenden will have even more responsibility than the typical high school senior, helping with dances, homecoming and assemblies, among other things.
"We try to take the adults out of the picture so they can have that full leadership experience," said assistant principal Kristin Packer.
Plus, he'll continue with dance, volleyball and running and take Advanced Placement English and calculus.
He'll spend any free time he has with friends, hoping to squeeze in a little fun, said Brenden. Under his letterman's sweater Tuesday, he wore a T-shirt featuring Spock, gesturing like a rapper, with the words "Trek yourself before you wreck yourself." He's not a Star Trek fan, but he thought the shirt would inspire a few laughs.
Brenden expects the year to be bittersweet.
"It's nice that I'm almost done with high school," Brenden said, "but at the same time, I'm going to miss it when it's over."
He wants to get as much from the experience as he can before likely heading off to Brigham Young University, a mission and, ultimately, adult life.
First days of school
Alpine District, Aug. 21
Canyons District, Aug. 27
Davis District, Sept. 4
Granite District, Aug. 27
Jordan District, Aug. 28
Murray District, Aug. 24
Ogden District, Aug. 27
Park City District, Aug. 29
Provo District, Aug. 21
Salt Lake District, Aug. 22
Source: State Office of Education