Micayla Cole was too nervous to sleep the night before school started at the University of Montana.
On Monday, the Florence woman was tired but looking forward to the next phase of her life. Inside the Liberal Arts building, she talked about wanting another cup of coffee, and her happiness at being in Missoula.
"I'm excited. I'm excited to start a new chapter in my life," Cole said.
She and her boyfriend, Cody Randles, got to class early just to be sure they would find seats.
On the morning of the first day of school, instructors doled out syllabi and words of caution about skipping class, students settled their nerves and ironed out loan checks, and at least one company and one ministry zeroed in on their demographic.
A wooden bin filled with Red Bulls sat on the lawn near the Oval, and some students peered inside and then asked if the drinks were free. Other students marched up to the bin with the logo of the bull, grabbed a couple of cans, and sailed on their way.
Wyatt LaBelle, who is studying Russian, was one of the latter. The Great Falls man tucked a couple cans in a pocket and continued his way across campus.
"I know Red Bull is doing some promotional stuff," LaBelle said of the bin.
The first day of class had some students arriving nearly 30 minutes early, and others straggling in late.
Before Writing 101 began, a couple of students exchanged notes about their professors, recommending those to avoid and those to seek out in other departments.
At 10:10 a.m., Jon Ziegler greeted the class of 25, and told them the course had a strict attendance policy. Rule No. 1: You can't miss the first two classes and stay enrolled.
"Obviously, you're all here, so you're not going to miss the first two classes. Nice work," Ziegler said.
In the composition class, they'd learn to write persuasively, improve as readers, and think critically. The UM campus would serve as a backdrop to some of their work, he said.
"We're going to do a lot of our writing assignments through the lens of place," Ziegler told the group.
In the Lommasson Center, Alyssa Peters stood in line to sign a check for her student loans because the money had gone to at least one wrong destination. She had worried some about getting her money, but she hoped she was at the last stop.
"It was a bit of a mess getting it over here," Peters said.
Despite the headache with her check, Peters was thrilled to be in Missoula. The history major transferred from a community college in Pennsylvania, and she landed here 10 days ago after numerous recommendations.
"Every person I talked to loved Missoula, loved the school. It just seemed like a really great fit for me. So far, it is," Peters said.
Ben Broman was also taking care of last-minute errands before class. He spent some $340 this semester on books, about average for the field of geosciences, he said.
At first, he wasn't keen on the start of the school year because he is taking difficult courses this term.
"I was dreading it earlier, but now I'm excited for the semester," Broman said.
Unlike the weeks of summer, the Oval was bustling on Monday.
Scott Barnett, with Chi Alpha Campus Ministries, was placing sandwich boards out letting students know about worship opportunities on campus. Sponsored by the Assemblies of God, the organization is a network of Christian ministries on campuses with a mission to support students in their self-discovery and their faith.
"It helps them really go for God," Barnett said.
He'd be giving out snow cones and bottled water, and he reveled in the clean air, a relief from the thick smoke over the weekend and last week.
"Isn't this day lovely? (You) forget how much this is a gift until it's been taken from you for a while," Barnett said.
Dwight Coddington, who reclined on the grass against a rock, agreed. The sophomore statistics student was reading "The Next American" between classes, a book he had picked up for pleasure.
On the first day of class, he got to read it in the sun: "It's beautiful out. The smoke's (gone), so I'm pretty happy."